O'FALLON — For O'Fallon softball coach Kate Walsh, the key to a successful 2013 season isn't all about pitching, hitting and defense.
It's about how her team comes together to form a cohesive unit.
"I think we have to all pull together and have that heart and have that character and have that never lay down and die attitude,'' Walsh said. "Our offense does look good, our defense does look good, we have some strong pitchers. If they all come together, they'll be successful.''
The Panthers return a few key components from a squad that posted a 30-7 record last season, but even those returners are dealing with playing different positions.
"Looking around the diamond, I have two players playing the same positions that they played last year,'' Walsh said. "And, really that's not the case. I have Taylor Underwood at first base, and she played a little bit there last year, like 10 games at the start of the season and then she went to right field. It's very different, but I am excited.''
The Panthers, who already are 2-0 this season, return two of their three Taylors from last season.
Pitcher Taylor Barnouski has graduated, but Underwood and pitcher Taylor Bowlby are back.
Underwood hit .429 with five homers and 32 RBIs last season, while Bowlby had a 14-2 record with a 1.01 ERA last season.
Bowlby, who has signed with Bradley University, also hit .333 with two homers and 24 RBIs last season.
Junior Maggie Moore and freshman Addison Barnouski, the sister of Taylor Barnouski, provide the Panthers with three quality arms on their pitching staff.
Becca Proper, who hit .346 in part-time action in the outfield last year, will handle the catching duties.
"She looks good,'' Walsh said of Proper, who homered twice in O'Fallon's 11-1 win over Waterloo on Tuesday. "She's a great communicator, plays solid defense and she's hitting the ball very well.''
Senior first baseman Lexi Cavins, who hit .376 with 22 RBIs last season, still is recovering from a torn ACL in the fall.
"She is making a great recovery, and she'll be back in the middle of April,'' Walsh said. "She's a great leader. It's almost like she's a little assistant coach right now.''
Freshman Allison Underwood, Taylor's younger sister, has moved into the starting spot at second base.
Junior Sam Busekrus has some big shoes to fill at shortstop. She's replacing Macy Oswald, who hit .441 with a team-leading nine homers and 50 RBIs last season, but Walsh feels she's up to the task.
"I am so impressed by her,'' Walsh said. "She has worked and worked and worked over the offseason. I never thought that I would say that somebody would compete with Macy, but she would compete with Macy. She has so much range. She is a vacuum over there.''
Junior Nikki McDonnell, who led the junior varsity squad in extra-base hits last year, moves up to the varsity, where she'll play third base.
"That kid wants it,'' Walsh said of McDonnell. "She is hungry, and she deserves it.''
Senior Sam Ralphs, who hit .440 with 31 runs scored last season, has moved from center field to left field.
"We moved her because it just makes our outfield stronger,'' Walsh said. "She sees the ball off the bat in left field so well. And, Molly Dumstorff in center can cover some ground. The two of them in the outfield makes it so much stronger.''
Sophomore Sami Stadts, another standout on the junior varsity team with a .514 batting average last year, will play right field.
Walsh said she has a lot of interchangeable parts this season, and she plans on experimenting to find the right combinations.
"Every player that I mentioned could play infield or outfield,'' Walsh said. "They are so versatile. My lineup could change 100 times.''
Assistant coach Ashlee Heady now is a member of Natalie Peters' staff at Belleville East, but Mark Paproth slides into her spot after serving as a volunteer with the Panthers for several years.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.