Softball: The race for WBL Player of the Year

With postseason softball well underway and awards just around the corner, the race for Western Buckeye League Player of the Year is as tight as it gets.

Let’s take a look at some of the top candidates, a group that includes four returning players from the conference’s first team in 2023 and one exceptional freshman.

Addison Fisher (P/INF) Wapakoneta

If betting odds were set on the winner, Fisher would probably be the favorite of the bunch. The only thing that hurts her case is Wapakoneta’s shaky finish to the season, which ended with a loss in each of its final four WBL games and a short tournament run that came to a halt in the second round against Findlay.

Despite all of that, the junior leadoff hitter and lead arm for the Redskins put up numbers that can’t be ignored.

This season she batted .675 (the highest of anyone on this list) with 52 hits, 20 of them for extra bases and 27 runs batted in. She also recorded multiple hits in 18 of Wapakoneta’s 23 games.

After re-tooling her pitching mechanics and adding a few new weapons to her arsenal in the offseason, Fisher had a 12-6 record inside the circle in 105 innings.

Her earned run average was a little high at 4.13, but statistically, her two worst starts where she yielded 10 earned runs apiece came against Findlay in the Division I sectional finals, and Parkway, a state tournament team last year, during the regular season. Without those two starts, her earned run average deflates to a respectable mark of 3.02.

Brynn Butler (P/SS) Kenton

During a historic season for the Kenton Wildcats that ended in its first-ever share of the WBL softball title and first conference championship in a girls sport since 1983, Brynn Butler has been in the center of the spotlight.

Butler, who’s served as the lead arm and three-hole hitter for the Wildcats, gets a boost in the race for Player of the Year by being the best player on one of the WBL’s top two teams.

Although she batted .560 with 42 hits and 42 RBI, those numbers don’t fully demonstrate how important she was in the Wildcats’ lineup. Three smaller numbers — five, zero and three — more accurately tell the story.

Five is the number of times Butler struck out all season in 82 trips to the plate. Zero represents how many times she was caught stealing in 13 attempts. Three is the number of walk-off hits Butler had during a season full of comeback victories.

In 107 innings pitched, she picked up 14 wins, worked to a 2.51 earned run average with 120 strikeouts and allowed just 39 earned runs.

Ayvah Cullen (SS) Defiance

Cullen and the Defiance Bulldogs just earned a share of the WBL title for the second straight season, and as the team’s best hitter, that success definitely gives her an extra bump.

Perhaps her biggest achievement of the season is the fact that she’s had at least one hit in every game she’s played. That, or a four-game stretch against Bath, Celina, Wapakoneta and Oregon Clay where she went 9 for 17 with five home runs, eight runs batted in and 10 runs scored.

Cullen started her junior season hitting third in the order, but after Defiance lost three of its first seven games, she was moved up to the leadoff spot, and the Bulldogs are 9-4 since then heading into a Friday night matchup against Van Wert.

Currently, Cullen is hitting .555 with 22 extra-base hits (eight home runs), 21 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases.

Cullen’s teammate Taighen Zipfel, the defending WBL Player of the Year, also has a case to be made here with a record of 11-3 inside the circle, allowing just 22 earned runs in 93 innings. She also recorded 109 strikeouts compared to just 26 walks.

Lilly Sifrit (P/C) Elida

Sifrit is well on her way to winning this award before she graduates, and luckily for Elida, that’s still three years away.

During her freshman campaign, Sifrit has been simply one of the best two-way players in the Western Buckeye League.

Out of the leadoff spot, she’s batted .671 with 29 extra-base hits (15 doubles), 29 runs batted in and 16 stolen bases. She’s hit two home runs in two different games against WBL rivals Shawnee and Celina, and against Van Wert, she went 5 for 5 with three extra-base hits, four RBI and four runs scored.

Inside the circle, she was credited with the win in five of her first six starts and currently has a record of 10-4 in 80 2/3 innings. Sifrit has also limited opponents to 26 earned runs and she’s recorded 88 strikeouts compared to 28 walks.

Adyson Van De Keere (P) St. Marys

Van De Keere is more of an honorable mention on this list, mostly due to the fact that the sophomore hurler has the most electric arm in the WBL.

On Friday, April 12 against league-champion Defiance, Van De Keere pitched nine innings and recorded a season-high 15 strikeouts in a 5-3 win for the Roughriders.

She also threw a no-hitter against Celina with 14 strikeouts. It was one of 11 games where Van De Keere recorded more than nine strikeouts, all but one in a seven-inning complete game effort.

She’s allowed just 13 earned runs this season with a record of 9-5 and a whopping 151 strikeouts compared to just 27 walks.

At the plate, she’s batted .355 with seven extra-base hits and 11 runs batted in.

Just like Sifrit, Van De Keere is well on her way to being a serious contender for this award, just not this season.

Reach Chris Howell at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter/X at @Lima_Howell