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Local Sports

New attitude, coach, field driving forces for Cardinal softball

Junior Emily Valtman will lead a hard-hitting offensive effort by Newton High’s Cardinals during the 2018 softball season. She was the team’s leading hitter in 2017 hitting 13 home runs and driving in 34 runs.
Junior Emily Valtman will lead a hard-hitting offensive effort by Newton High’s Cardinals during the 2018 softball season. She was the team’s leading hitter in 2017 hitting 13 home runs and driving in 34 runs.

Moving forward and taking the next step as a program is on the slate for Newton High’s Cardinal softball team in 2018. The Cardinals have a new head coach and a brand new field as starting points for the journey.

Casey Price, a former Newton High standout softball player, brings coaching experience from the middle school, high school and college levels of softball to the Cardinal program. She’s stacked her coaching staff also.

Former NHS softball head coach Gary Grimes, who is Price’s father, and former NHS players Caitlyn Meyer and Lizzie Stock are the assistant coaches. Grimes coached for several years, leaving after the 2012 season, and was the pitching coach at Central College.

Price was an all-state pitcher for Newton. Meyer played behind the plate and Stock was a shortstop during their playing days for the Cardinals.

“Our core group is very coachable and we have good athletes here willing to work. That’s what makes it fun to coach. We’re excited to get the season underway next Monday,” Price said. “Our girls love the new field and we’re ready to play games.”

Newton dedicates the new softball field, which is just south of H.A. Lynn Stadium, in a 7:15 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday.

Then in Price’s words “It’s game on.”

The Cardinals open the 2018 season against Knoxville. They have three non-conference games before heading into Little Hawkeye Conference play on the road on May 30 at Dallas Center-Grimes.

Newton’s softball team has 12 returners — seniors and juniors — who have been a part of a strong run by the Cardinals over the past few years. In a four-year span, the Cardinals have gone 53-46 with their best season in 2016 going 21-11 for the programs’ first winning season since 2012.

“We’ve changed the culture for the team this season. Our kids are buying into whatever we’ve asked of them,” Price said. “We’re building with a solid group of kids with strong leadership from our seniors and juniors.”

Senior returners for Newton are Taylor Ryan at first base, Karley Leiker and Harlie Durr as outfielders, Audrey Lucas at third base and middle infield, Kennedy Leiker as catcher and utility player Mackenzie Johnson. Most have had starting roles at least the past three years.

The Cardinals’ top pitchers are juniors in Anna Coyle and Peyton Maher. Madison Thayer is another junior pitcher and Kameron Johnson is a sophomore pitcher.

Other juniors back are shortstop and catcher Emily Valtman, outfielder Lakin Jenkins and third baseman Riley Slycord. Newton has a transfer junior in Mackensie Brown, who played for Colfax-Mingo last season.

“Dad and I are both pitching coaches. I’d venture to say there’s not another pitching staff in the state of Iowa that is going to have the two kids the caliber we have on our team,” Price said. “We have speed to put pressure on defenses when we’re on base.

“And our hitting … our kids were crushing the ball in spring games. They have bought into our hitting philosophy and we saw them adjust at the plate against any type of pitching thrown at them.”

For the second straight year, Coyle earned Little Hawkeye Conference second-team honors as a pitcher. She was 5-6 in the circle in conference play and went 9-8 overall for the season. She had the fourth-best earned run average, 2.00, among LHC pitchers. She allowed 72 hits, 41 runs — only 22 earned runs — and issued 16 walks. Coyle had 48 LHC strikeouts, which was eighth best.

Overall, Coyle had a 1.75 ERA for the season. She pitched 120 1/3 innings. She allowed 106 hits, walked 29 batters and hit one batter. Coyle gave up 56 runs — 30 earned. She racked up 73 strikeouts.

Maher went 6-6 overall in 77 2/3 innings of work last year. She had one save and finished with a 3.06 ERA. She allow 76 hits, 52 runs, walked 22 and struck out 73. Johnson, Thayer and Ryan each logged a few innings in the circle a year ago.

“Anna and Peyton worked all winter. They are throwing the ball with more movement and velocity. It’s going to be fun to call games for these two pitchers as we have them throw to our defense, which is going to strong behind them,” Price said. “We’re also going to have a lot of strikeouts from those two putting the ball where they want it — ball movement is key.”

Leading the offense is Valtman, who earned second-team LHC honors as a utility player/designated hitter, and Ryan, who was a conference honorable mention selection. Valtman played several infield positions including catcher for the Cardinals and Ryan has held down the first-base position the past couple of years for Newton.

Valtman led the Little Hawkeye Conference with a 1.037 slugging percentage and was second in her on-base average at .541. Her .481 batting average was third best in the conference. Valtman hammered out eight home runs and drove in 26 runs, both second best in the conference.

Valtman finished in a three-way tie for most home runs among Class 4A hitters with 13 this season. She led the Cardinals in home runs and in triples, hitting their only three triples this season. She also led the team in RBIs with 34 and runs scored with 33.

Valtman’s 1.096 slugging percentage for the season ranked second overall in Class 4A. She finished with a .470 batting average and a .962 fielding average. 

Ryan had the fifth-best batting average, .435, in LHC action and was ninth with a .473 on-base average. She had 30 hits, five doubles and 19 RBIs in conference play and scored 11 runs.

For the season, Ryan had a .396 battling average and a .468 slugging average. She led the Cardinals with 44 hits and eight doubles, which led the team. She drove in 26 runs for the season. Sh had a .981 fielding average and five errors at first base.

Karley Leiker is Newton’s center fielder who hit .259 last year driving in 11 runs and scoring 25. She led the team in stolen bases, going 13-of-14 in attempts. She had four doubles. Lucas, who has played three infield positions, hit .250 last year with four doubles, 23 hits and eight RBIs.

Behind the plate, Kennedy Lieker has been steady. She only had two errors last year and threw out six runners attempting to steal. She hit .209 with 19 hits, four doubles and eight RBIs. Valtman is another catcher, but is expected to be the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.

Jenkins is slated to play in left field. Jenkins hit .313 with 15 hits, and 12 RBIs. She scored 14 runs and was 5-of-6 in stolen base attempts.

“Lakin and Karley are slap hitters and both have wheels. We have players who can hit for power and we’ll play small ball by putting in play and using our speed,” Price said. “We’re just excited about our hitting right now and it’s just going to get better.”

Slycord had four home runs last year for the Cardinals. Brown gives the Cardinal lineup up another strong hitter as she hit .351 a year ago for Colfax-Mingo with 10 double, 39 hits, drove in 27 runs and scored 28 runs.

Newton was 16-18 last year and ended up sixth in the LHC with a 10-10 mark. Price said she expects the conference to be tough with teams such as Indianola, Oskaloosa, Norwalk and Dallas Center-Grimes in the battle for the top. Pella Christian is the defending LHC champion.

“It’s going to be a tight pack and don’t count us out of it. We’re going to surprise a few teams on how much we’ve improved and how we’ll play this season,” Price said. “We have the pitching, the base running, defense and our bats have really taken off. These kids’ confidence at the plate has grown.

“Really, I believe the only concern we have going into the season is time. Every softball coach wants another week of practice before the season starts and we’re all dealing with spring sports. I’m just excited about this team and what I believe these kids can do.”

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535 or jsheets@newtondailynews.com

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