It's now or never for the Pattonville High girls softball team.
Well, 'never' probably isn't the right word but it could be a long time before the Pirates will have as good a chance to win a Suburban North Conference title as they do in 2011.
Pattonville returns five key position players and one of its most effective pitchers from last year's team that came one win away from earning a district crown.
"It'll definitely be the best chance we've had in awhile to seriously compete for a league title," said Pirates coach Doug McGhee. "That's our goal. If things fall right - if our pitching holds together - we could do it."
The return of McGhee's daughter, Mikala, is a big reason why. The three-time Suburban North Conference first-team player had her best season yet in 2010 when she hit .507 and had 23 RBI.
The younger McGhee, a senior, played center field last year but her dad said she may have to play shortstop this fall.
"She's got a strong arm and she's a leader vocally and she covers a lot of ground," he said of Mikala. "If I can't find another shortstop I might have to move her there out of necessity."
Coach McGhee also welcomes back senior Kailey Utley, who is a four-year starter like Mikala McGhee and was a first-team all-SNC player last year at second base when she hit .377 and scored a team-high 25 runs. Utley, one of the top soccer players in the St. Louis area, may also be on the move to the outfield.
"If she concentrated on it she would be a great second baseman," said McGhee. "She's got great range. But she wants to play in the outfield and she's done good out there."
Other key senior returnees include Kristen Hannah, a three-year starter and a returning first-team all-SNC performer at first base who hit .356 last year and had 10 RBI; catcher Mallory Jacobson, a three-year starter who was second team all-SNC last fall when she hit .327 with 11 RBI; and Kacie Hulse, a two year starter who hit .264 last year and had 11 RBI.
Junior Skyler Rodgers, who last year was 3-6 with a 4.36 earned run average, is the team's top returning pitcher.
"She's improved every year," said McGhee. "She's the type of girl who wants to be good and she'll do everything in her power to get there. So far she's looking good. I just hope she continues to improve."
McGhee said he hopes to get some good innings out of sophomore pitcher Lauren McAdon, who was 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA last year, and he said he has a promising freshman pitcher in Kayla Blank.
Another freshman McGhee is high on is Kiersten McCormack, a versatile player who will come in handy.
"She can play anything on the field like second, shortstop, third base or outfield," said McGhee of McCormack. "She'll bat near the top of the lineup also. She has a bright future also. I'm excited to get her."
The Pirates, who were 10-15 overall last year and 4-3 in league play and fell 11-1 to McCluer North in a district final, will open their season Monday in the Parkway Tournament against Marquette.
"We play a very challenging schedule," said McGhee. "If you can get to the playoffs anything can happen. Parkway Central was 3-16 a couple years ago and they got one pitch away from making to the final four."
Other North County teams to watch:
• Incarnate Word - The Red Knights, who were 16-6 last year and lost to St. Joseph’s Academy in the state quarterfinals, have a good nucleus back including infielder Anna Langhorst (.442 batting average, 25 RBI), outfielder Lauren Brandon (.341, 14 RBI) and infielder Haley Kavanaugh (.337, 17 RBI).
• McCluer North - The defending SNC champs, who were 21-3 last year and won a district title, should again be competitive largely because standout pitcher Rachel Franck (21-2, 1.58 ERA) returns. Stars also have shortstop Tynai Burrow (.377, 16 RBI) and second baseman/catcher Maggie Raferty (.360) returning.