A season preview for the Howard softball team heading into the 2016 season

2015 record: 14-3 county, 17-5 overall

Coach: Chuck Rice

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Key players: Seniors Jamie Bahrijczuk (P), Rachel Oliver (C) and Steph Yarrish (3B); junior Ally Wieman (P); sophomores Emma Braswell (SS) and Shanya Gordon (OF).

What you need to know: The Lions are one of Howard County's powerhouse programs and, while some key pieces from last season's team are gone, the talent is there to be a contender once again.

Everything starts with the pitching combination of Bahrijczuk and Wiemann, who were the team's main two pitchers a season ago, and what should be a solid defense behind them.

"We're returning both pitchers we had last year and with one more year of experience they'll be able to rise above pressure situations that may come up," coach Chuck Rice said. "With their pitching and our willingness to compete, we should be able to overcome most situations."

On her way to earning second-team all-county honors, Bahrijczuk posted a 2.37 ERA in the circle in 97.1 innings pitched.

The Lions got some tough news over the winter when returning all-county star Berit Batterton tore her ACL during the basketball season. Her absence leaves a hole, but there are talented hitters left. Oliver, Yarrish and Gordon all hit for a .377 batting average or better in 2015. Gordon is particularly intriguing as a speedy hitter that also has some power (8 extra-base hits).

Overall there are eight players back from last year and seven have starting experience.

Howard opens with Long Reach and Rice says a fast is extremely important.

"As in any season, my barometer is always the beginning of our schedule," he said. "I feel it sets the tone of the season and it's nice for the players to get some quick confidence."

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