RIPLEY – Three may be a crowd, but that’s just fine for the Ripley Viking softball team.  Head coach Ken Swisher’s squad features a three pronged pitching rotation of senior ace Darby Petersen, junior Destinee Baldwin and sophomore Payton Dale and also returns several top hitters and defenders from the 2015 team.  That combination has the blue and white ready to once again make a trip back to the state tournament.  

“Things have gone well,” Swisher said, regarding his team’s initial practices, “We’re getting to know each other.  We feel good about what we have here.  We have an awesome pitching staff right now, so we’re feeling really good about that.  The defense will come and the hitting is like anything else, you might start out a little slow, but it will come on.”

Indeed, Swisher has good reason to be excited about his pitching staff this season. 

“You always want to take your oldest and give them that opportunity early,” Swisher said, “Darby will get most of the starts [early.] Destinee got a lot of experience last year, so she can come in as a reliever or start occasionally.  Payton is looking very strong, also. I think we’ve got a good mix with them this year if everybody stays healthy.”

Being the senior, Petersen will get the nod at the top of the rotation.  She went 14-10 last season, with a 2.80 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 130 innings of work.  Baldwin is looking to build off of a solid 2015 in her junior season.  Last year, she finished 5-2 with a 3.42 ERA as the number two option behind Petersen.  The addition of Dale, who transferred from Ravenswood in the offseason, puts the staff over the top.  Dale emerged as the Devilettes’ number two starter last season, behind then-senior and current Heidelberg University pitcher Savana Casto.  Dale now makes the step up in classification and competition for Ripley, but the sophomore has all the tools to handle the transition.

With a solid rotation in place, the Vikings also have cause of excitement at the plate.  They return their top two hitters from last season in sophomore second baseman Paige Swisher and senior third baseman Myranda Murphy.  Swisher batted .416 last season with three home runs and 20 RBIs, while Murphy hit .347 with 17 RBIs.  Another key returnee for Ripley in 2016 is senior shortstop Kelsey Moore.  Moore will once again hover around the top of the Viking lineup after finishing last season with a .341 batting average, 18 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.  Elsewhere in the lineup, Ripley has a group that will see increased roles in 2016.  Seniors Maddie McCann and Alyssa Bumpus, juniors Haley Carte (.319 AVG), Allie Hamilton, Izzy Donohew Cassidy Craddock and Aly Blankenship all will look to be added to the mix during the upcoming season.  

“we’ve got more righty-lefty combinations than we’ve had in years past,” Swisher said, of his batting order, “You’re going to see some of these kids that didn’t get to play a lot last year that are getting opportunities.  I think you’re going to see some good ball playing out of them.  The lineup will juggle for while, it’s hard until you get a lot of practices and games in to know for sure how you’d like to go.”

Rounding out the Viking roster in 2016 will be: freshmen Taylor Johnson, Emily McClain, Jahlea Bumpus, Jaelyn Hunt, Cassidy Young, Sarah Brannon, Jamie Boggess and Elizabeth Crihfield.  

Certainly, the Vikings will need every bit of their solid returning lineup and staff when faced with yet another daunting schedule in 2016.  Aside from their MSAC slate, which will feature the likes of 2015 state runner-up South Charleston, 2015 state champion Hurricane, the Vikings will once again make the trek to Myrtle Beach for the Grand Strand Tournament.  The Myrtle Beach Classic features teams from all over the country and will go a long way in determining just how the Vikings stack up.

“It’s a great opportunity to see how you matchup against national teams, “ Swisher said, regarding the Myrtle Beach Classic, “We went 4-1 last year, and we’ve always went down there and played well.  We’re also playing in a tournament at Symmes Valley High School in Ohio.  They have a lot of teams from the Columbus area, so it’sa  very strong tournament, as well.”

With all the pieces to the season in place, all that’s left for Swisher and his team is to go out and play.  One of the hallmarks of the 2015 Viking squad was their dogged compete level, something that Swisher feels will carry over into this season. 

“As far as for the season, I think the kids are going to play as hard as ever,” Swisher said, “They’re going to put it on the line, because we’ve talked quite a bit about that already.  They know how the game has to be played to be successful.”

Ripley opens the season tonight at home against Parkersburg.  First pitch is set for 5:30 p.m. from Lady Viking Park.