NASHVILLE — As the defending Class 2A state softball champions, the Nashville Hornettes know they have a big bullseye on their backs.
The Hornettes return every player except one from last year's postseason starting lineup.
"There is expectations, and we want to make sure we don't overlook the next opponent, the next game,'' Hornettes coach Dempsey Witte said. "I think it is just natural when you do win a state title and have a lot of players are returning, there is going to be high expectations. It just seems to me that there is high expectations at Nashville in every sport every year. Hopefully, the girls can adjust to it. They have been through it now enough that it doesn't bother us mentally. It's just part of it.''
The good times look to continue for the girls sports program at Nashville High, which celebrated a Class 2A state championship in basketball last month.
Four members of the softball team -- first baseman-pitcher Shaye Harre, shortstop Kiley Pelker, second baseman Jordi Harre and third baseman-outfielder Hannah Yung -- played on the basketball team.
Now the Hornettes, who are off to a 4-0 start this season, are hoping to make it three state titles in one year.
However, Witte cautions that although the Hornettes have a lot of players returning, so do many of other teams in Southern Illinois, including Du Quoin, Carterville, Anna-Jonesboro and Carmi.
"People say, 'You have a lot returning,''' said Witte, whose squad finished second to Du Quoin in the River-to-River Mississippi Division last season. "Well, everybody else does, too. It should make for good softball in Southern Illinois.''
The Hornettes have two high-caliber pitchers in senior Shaye Harre and sophomore Maci Ingram, who threw all of the Hornettes' postseason games last year.
"We're fortunate to have options with Maci and Shaye,'' Witte said. "They both work extremely hard at it and do a great job for us. They do a good job throwing strikes. We're happy to have both of them.''
A late-season injury to Shaye Harre opened the door for Ingram, who posted a 20-2 record with an ERA of 0.63 last season.(*18*)
"She seemed to get better as the year went on, and it seemed like it was a great fit for us having Shaye on first base and Macy on the mound,'' Witte said. "Once we got on a roll that way, we really didn't want to change anything. Macy did great job in the circle, so we just stayed with her.''
Shaye Harre, who is headed to Southern Illinois University Carbondale in the fall, was 15-2 with a 1.84 ERA on the mound last season.
She's also one of the most feared hitters in the state. She batted .537 with six homers and 60 RBIs last year, and already has three homers this season.
"Shaye is a great all-around player,'' Witte said. "When she's up at the plate, she has a great eye. She has a lot of power. We're happy to have her in the heart of our lineup.''
The Hornettes return their entire infield with the exception of third baseman Lauren O'Daniell, who moved away when her father changed jobs.
Yung, a junior who played in the outfield last year, and Abbi Liske are handling the duties at third base.
Junior Briah Winchester, who batted. 306 last season, returns at catcher, while sophomore Jordi Harre, who batted .333 last season, returns at second base.
Pelker plays shortstop and provides some pop in the No. 2 spot in the Hornettes' batting order ahead of Shaye Harre. She hit .397 with 17 doubles, six triples and three homers last season.
"She gets some good pitches to hit, and she doesn't miss them,'' Witte said. "In the state title game last year, I think she was 4-for-4. She provides a lot of power, but also a lot of speed as well. She is a good asset for the lineup.''
Senior Nicole Deering, the Hornettes' leadoff hitter, is back patroling center field.
Deering, who is headed to Southeast Missouri State, hit .459 with a team-high 54 runs scored last season.
"She puts a lot of pressure on other team's defense,'' Witte said. "She has great speed. She is a great base runner. If the ball gets hit in the gap, she gets a great jump and there is a good chance she is going to score.''
Deering is flanked by junior Nellie Snead in right and sophomore Emily Thompson in left.
Snead hit .330 last season, while Thompson hit .313.
Freshman Deidra Holzhauer could see some time as a pitcher or a hitter this season.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.