Back in the spring of 2019, Whiteland softball coach Katie Mitchell was coming off of a six-win season and had a roster dominated by inexperience. She had little choice but to throw some young pups into the deep end see whether or not they could swim.
With four freshmen and three sophomores in the starting lineup, the Warriors improved to 13-15 that year and provided a glimpse of what was to come.
As one of the freshmen on that squad, Debbie Hill had her share of mixed results. She batted .416 with eight home runs and 38 runs batted in but faced some rough patches as the team’s No. 2 pitcher, posting a 5.92 earned-run average and yielding eight or more runs in six different games.
Those rough patches for Hill and her teammates have long since been smoothed out. Whiteland won its first 20 games this spring, earned a share of the Mid-State Conference championship and claimed its first sectional title since 2007.
The driving force behind the Warriors’ upward climb, Hill is the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year.
Hill has cited the team’s chemistry on numerous occasions as a key to this year’s success. The four just-graduated seniors (Hill, Haley Wilkerson, Trinity Borders and Tara Watson) and some of the players a year younger than them have been teammates going back a decade.
Being shoved into action as underclassmen helped to toughen them up over the long run.
“It gave us the experience that we need,” Hill said of that up-and-down freshman campaign, “and it showed us what it’s going to take to get to where we want to be.”
The Warriors got there this spring in large part because of Hill’s incredible improvement in the pitching circle.
She showed signs of progress as a junior (11-8, 2.70 ERA) but still struggled against some of the elite teams on the schedule, getting roughed up in losses to Center Grove, Decatur Central and Mooresville. But nobody roughed Hill up in 2022. Her ERA dropped to 0.68, and no team scored more than two earned runs against her all year. She showed incredible command and control, striking out 160 while walking just 16 in 113 innings of work.
All the while, she continued to produce at the plate — Hill led the Warriors with a .514 batting average, six home runs, 40 RBIs, 11 doubles, and a 1.554 on-base plus slugging.
Next, Hill will take her talents to Trine University, where she’ll join a team that advanced all the way to the NCAA Division III championship series.
Having helped build Whiteland into a winning program, Hill is eager to join another one at the end of the summer.
“I’m definitely excited. I’ve been up to a few camps, so I know a majority of the girls on the team, and I’m excited to get to work with them — especially after the run that they had this year,” she said. “To know that I get to go and be a part of that and help them hopefully win it all instead of just being runners-up, that makes me feel great.”
Whatever success Hill finds with the Thunder won’t take anything away from what she and her classmates accomplished at Whiteland. The bar has been raised significantly over the past four years, and that’s a tremendous source of pride for those who pushed it upward.
“We made a statement,” Hill said. “It just shows that anything can be possible if you work hard. We weren’t the greatest when we first came in as freshmen, but each year we improved, and that just goes to show we just kept putting in work.”
The 2022 All-County team for softball:
Adeline Blackwell, Franklin freshman: Made an instant impact for the Grizzly Cubs, batting a team-best .417 and scoring 32 runs … Created havoc on the basepaths, totaling a county-best 42 thefts.
Gracie Crawhorn, Edinburgh junior: Second team All-State selection batted .655 with 15 home runs … Ranked second in the state and top 25 nationally in both on-base (.738) and slugging percentage (1.603).
Hannah Haberstroh, Center Grove sophomore: Speedy outfielder paced Trojans with a .477 batting average, 41 runs scored and an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.090 … Second team All-State.
Riley Henson, Center Grove sophomore: First team All-State hurler posted a 1.95 earned-run average and struck out 247 batters … Fanned 19 against Penn and 15 in a county tournament win over Whiteland.
Debbie Hill, Whiteland senior: Led sectional champion Warriors in the pitching circle (0.68 ERA, 160 K, 11 BB) and at the plate (.514, 6 HR, 40 RBIs, 11 doubles, 1.554 OPS) … A first team All-State selection … Committed to Division III national runner-up Trine.
Emma Piercy, Whiteland junior: Shortstop provided an offensive and defensive spark for 24-win team … Batted .438 with 42 runs scored, 10 stolen bases and a 1.112 on-base plus slugging.
Anna Pritchett, Greenwood senior: Marian signee hit .412 with 27 runs scored, 19 RBIs, four triples, two homers and 21 steals … Anchored the Woodmen on defense, rotating between shortstop and center field.
Kiley Sullivan, Whiteland freshman: Hit .369 with eight triples, two homers, 22 runs scored and 26 RBIs … Also provided a valuable No. 2 pitching option for the Warriors, going 9-0 with a 2.65 ERA.
Emily Todor, Indian Creek senior: Shortstop was an indispensable leader for a young Braves team without a home field, hitting .383 with 11 doubles before a late-season injury … Will continue her playing career at Butler.
Lex Warner, Center Grove senior: A third team All-State pick after batting .385 with three home runs, 28 runs batted in and a 1.033 on-base plus slugging for county champion Trojans … Will join Hill on South All-Star roster.
Haley Wilkerson, Whiteland senior: A starter behind the plate since her freshman year, earned third team All-State honors after batting .300 with three homers, six doubles and 21 RBIs … Signed with Southern Illinois.
MacKenzie Bieker, Edinburgh; Trinity Borders, Whiteland; Bryleigh Carlisle-Haltom, Franklin; Ellie Chumbley, Franklin; Taylor Dick, Greenwood; Bailey Dowty, Indian Creek; Hannah Emenhiser, Indian Creek; Alli Gavin, Indian Creek; Courtney Hankenhoff, Greenwood; Josslynn Harbert, Whiteland; Mia Herbert, Franklin; Hailey Haynes, GCA; Riley Janda, Center Grove; Ashlynn Keser, Franklin; Alyssa Lewis, Indian Creek; Sophie Markowicz, Greenwood; Maddy Myers, Whiteland; Halle Nett, Whiteland; Payton Shimansky, Center Grove; Ava Smith, Whiteland; Kyah Streeval, Edinburgh; Tara Watson, Whiteland; Ashlynn Wolff, Center Grove