Lady Bucs ready to defend state softball title in 2018

MILFORD – Staying laser-focused and “getting one percent better every day” is how the Milford High softball program captured the DIAA state championship last season. The program’s first state title since 2009.

So, naturally, that’s exactly how head coach Sean Brennan and the Lady Bucs plan on defending that state title this season.

“We’re happy with what we’ve got going on, the kids are working hard,” coach Brennan said towards the end of the team’s second outdoor practice Tuesday, March 6. “They’re getting one percent better every day. That’s going to be a common theme for as long as I’m the ball coach here. I believe in it and that’s just what we do. So, there’s a lot of teaching going on right now and the girls are doing really well.”

Seeded No. 11 in the state tournament last year, Milford (14-4) used the long ball to defeat downstate rival Delmar, 17-9, in the state title game at Lower Sussex Little League May 30.

Milford celebrates their 18-5 victory over Indian River during the DIAA state tournament semifinals softball game at Lower Sussex last May (The Chronicle/Marc Clery).

In four state tournament games, the Bucs out-scored opponents 55-27, including 18 home runs over that four-game span.

At 4-4 through the first eight games of 2017, Milford put together a string of 14 consecutive wins to take home the title.

With the start of the 2018 regular season Thursday, March 22, Milford will look to extend that 14-game win streak.

But first, the Bucs have about two weeks of preparation, including a pair of scrimmage play days Saturday, March 10 and Saturday, March 17.

“We play up at Midway against two amazing teams from Maryland,” coach Brennan said of this Saturday’s play day. “We play the state champs – Bo Manor – right out of the gate. And then we play Perryville, who won the state championship the year before. I knew I definitely wanted to play those two teams.”

While losing a few key pieces to the championship roster – now-graduated seniors Rajene Bowe, Nia Bowe, Megan Fry and Genesis Chamberlayne – isn’t ideal, coach Brennan believes he has the right girls who can step up and fill the void left behind.

“I’ll tell you, it’s tough to replace Rajene Bowe, let’s be real about that,” he stated. “And Nia Bowe’s leadership, Genesis Chamberlayne came on for us at the end of last year with her level of play raised up, and Megan Fry’s been shortstop for us for four years. So, it’s tough to replace those girls, but we feel like we have some kids who believe in what we do and will work hard every day as a team.”

With nine returning players from that championship team, the core of Milford’s roster is returning, including senior starting pitcher Morgan Abbott, junior catcher Courtney Kohel, senior second baseman Darby Brennan and senior outfielder Kalaysia Reynolds.

Starting pitcher Morgan Abbott throws a pitch during Milford’s 17-9 state championship win over Delmar last May (Special to The Chronicle/Chuck Snyder).

“I like what we have coming back,” he said. “We have nine coming back from last year’s team and we have some kids who have stepped up and done a really good job. So, it’s going to be an exciting year and we’re going to strive again to make the tournament. Anything can happen then.”

The remaining five players returning from last year’s championship roster: sophomore Macey Myers, junior Morgan Petty, junior Julia Reed, junior Khya Reynolds and sophomore Emily Sickles.

Rather than rebuilding, Milford is simply “reloading” for 2018.

“What we’re trying to do is set a tradition,” coach Brennan said. “You look at this storied program here at Milford, and it does have a tradition, so we’re trying to get to the point where we don’t have to rebuild – we reload. I feel that that’s where we are this year, we’re reloading.”

Abbott, Brennan and Reynolds make up Milford’s trio of seniors, meaning the bulk of the Lady Bucs’ 2018 roster will consist of sophomores and juniors.

“Mo has been our pitcher for three years, the lessons she’s learned are really going to help us come tournament time,” coach Brennan said. “Darby, a returning First Team All-Stater, that leadership that she has is just invaluable to our team, she establishes a good work ethic around here. Kalaysia has been unbelievable in centerfield for us through communication and helping our younger outfielders learn how we play outfield here.”

Thoughts from the seniors

Starting pitcher Morgan Abbott:

Morgan Abbott enters her third season as Milford’s No. 1 pitcher. As a junior, she led the Lady Bucs to the DIAA state title in the pitcher’s circle.

“I think we’ve been looking pretty good in practice. So far, so good. I think we have a strong team and we’re ready to win. So, we’re going to try to pick up where we left off last year.”

Second baseman Darby Brennan:

First-Team All-State second baseman Darby Brennan enters her final season playing for her father, and stated that it’s one of the many things she’ll miss most about high school softball.

“It’s very exciting this year. I feel like we all have very positive attitudes and we’re just ready for the season to start. As a senior group, we’re definitely going to try to bring the type of leadership that last year’s seniors brought for us. I feel like everyone on the team brings their own kind of leadership.”

Outfielder Kalaysia Reynolds:

Reynolds, a corner outfielder last year, is taking over in centerfield for the Milford Bucs this season.

“My focus this year is filling in the spots that the seniors left last year and to help lead the team. Our team is very close – everyone is good friends and we’re like a family.”

Following its pair of play days this Saturday, March 10 and Saturday, March 17, the Lady Bucs will open the 2018 regular season schedule on the road at Delaware Military Academy Thursday, March 22. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m.

The team’s home-opener is set for Saturday, March 24 against Middletown. First pitch is slated for 11 a.m. at Milford High.

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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