Maybe that’s why Antioch High hired Brook Russo, a former assistant coach at Liberty and Freedom, to lead the varsity softball team this year. That could also be why Russo added Amanda Williams, former Freedom ace and sister of Falcons sophomore pitcher Madison Williams, as the Panthers’ pitching coach.
So far, the approach is working. Antioch has started the season 9-3 overall (1-1 in Bay Valley Athletic League play) and is locked in an apparent three-way race for the league crown. Defending champion Freedom has gone 7-5 (1-1 BVAL) through an ambitious schedule while Heritage (8-5, 3-0 BVAL) could be the team to beat. The Patriots topped Freedom 10-6 on April 12 and the Panthers 3-1 two days later.
“That’s always our big thing – to beat Freedom,” junior second baseman Nicollete Redfearn said. “I feel like our biggest competition is Heritage. Since we’ve wanted Freedom for so long, they’re definitely beatable.”
The elder Williams has an astute student in the circle in the Bowling Green State bound Paris Imholz. The only pitcher to toe the rubber for Antioch this season, Imholz owns a 9-3 record and 0.77 earned run average in 82 innings. She’s fanned 100 batters and has yet to allow a home run. At the plate, Imholz leads the Panthers with a .429 batting average and six stolen bases.
“We’ve come a long way since the start of the season,” Imholz said. “We’ve faced stiff competition and we’ve held our own against them. I’m proud of that. I feel like we can only get better.”
Antioch features a solid infield, comprising senior third baseman Stephanie Mathias, who will attend Weber State next year, sophomore shortstop Kristine Ball, Redfearn and senior first baseman Kelsey Cast.
Cast is hitting at a .353 clip; Redfearn owns a .308 average and has scored eight runs. Russo also commended the work of senior catcher Shannon West. “They’re bonding pretty well as a team,” Russo said. “Everyone has a role and they’re all doing a good job.”
Panthers players noted that the team seems much closer this year than in recent memory. Imholz, a four-year varsity athlete, said they’ve spent more time together as a team outside the softball diamond. Russo also put more focus on offseason conditioning, which Imholz believes has helped.
Antioch is hoping the increased team unity will continue to pay off. The Panthers face Freedom for the first time on May 3, a game Williams has been looking forward to all season long.