Mathews looks to reload with young core | News, Sports, Jobs

Staff file photo / Brian Yauger
Mathews’ Olivia Matheny celebrates with teammates during a game last season Matheny is set to be one returner who will make an impact for Mathews.

One of the gold standards of Trumbull County softball over the last decade and a half has been Mathews. While the team has a young core, the expectations are the same this year as they are nearly every year.

After a brief reprieve to spend time with family, a familiar face is back to guide the Mustangs program this season. Longtime coach Jim Nicula is returning to the Mathews dugout for his 12th season with the program where he’s amassed a record of 207-47 at the helm.

The Mustangs boast a young lineup, but there’s plenty of experience still in the mix. Mathews returns a sophomore-heavy lineup that saw a significant amount of playing time last year. Headlined by sophomores Olivia Matheny, Ava Shugart, Kelsie Newsome and Ashia Pate, as well as lone senior Gianna Toto, the Mustangs are in great shape heading into the year.

“There’s a lot of equal talent,” Nicula said. There are kids competing for positions right now and of course the returning starters from last year, they definitely always will get first run in there and first chance to nab it but they’re having to work hard. The majority of them really are working hard to keep positions and go on but yeah, we’re real. We’re really excited.”

Every position is going to be handled with a committee approach early in the year. Like Nicula said, the starters from last season will get first crack, but they will have other girls nipping at their heels throughout the decision process.

With that said, the loss of Emma Gates will certainly be felt this season, but Mathews isn’t in a dire situation in the circle. In fact, the Mustangs have no shortage of fresh arms to throw into the mix when needed.

Without going into full rotation details, Nicula mentioned that he’s more than confident in his crop of pitchers this year.

“The big key is going to be pitching, but I’ll tell you what, we actually have seven kids that pitch,” Nicula said. “We have four sophomores and three freshmen, and we’re very happy with them. We’ve had a couple of scrimmage games so far indoors and we did very well. We’re playing Boardman this weekend which will be exciting to see how they fare against a really good team that year in and year out, is real solid. We’re excited. I don’t think our pitching is going to fall off.”

Over the years, pitching has been a strength for Mathews, as the Mustangs have had multiple all-state pitchers.

“We’ve been blessed to have all-state pitching year after year after year,” Nicula said. “Going all the way back to Cheyenne Eggens from the early 2010s. Cheyenne was all-state. Then we had Nicole Watts, who was an all-state pitcher and then Addy (Jarvis) and then, we had a year or two where we had Becca (Landis) and Emma (Gates) who were young, but then they ended up both becoming all-state pitchers.”

That level of success in the circle and level of team success has made playing for Mathews a difficult thing to do. There’s a high bar you have to meet. With that said, Nicula thinks he has the right roster that can get back to where they want to be. Making the regionals has been nice, but Nicula and the Mustangs are aiming a little bit higher than that.

“When they play softball at Mathews, you have a legacy to uphold, and the bar has been set very high,” Nicula said. “…We’re competing for a league championship and then district and beyond. Regardless of who is here, we reload, and that’s our goal to get back to the state level. We’ve fallen short in the regional level recently, and we want to get over that hump, and there’s no reason why we feel that we can’t do that this year.

“The kids work hard and stay the course and exhibit what we’re trying to get them to do and you attitude and effort you know me that’s my biggest thing. You can move mountains when you have a great attitude and you give great effort. Sometimes that’s way more important than the skill level you have.”

The road to get to Akron in June isn’t an easy one, so the Mustangs prepared themselves with a rigorous regular season schedule. In addition to a tough league slate with perennial top teams Pymatuning Valley and Bristol and up-and-comers Chalker, Mathews will be taking on some of the state’s best teams.

As a part of the Wendy’s Classic in April, the Mustangs are scheduled to face Danville, Marlington and Strasburg.

Mathews will open its season at home against Pymatuning Valley on March 27 at 5 p.m.

Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox

Source link