New coach O’Shields seeks softball tourney run with young Indian River team

Abby O’Shields. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

DAGSBORO — Though it’s his first season at the helm, new Indian River High coach Sam O’Shields is a familiar face within the Indians’ varsity softball program.

His daughters Abby and Savannah O’Shields are both on the squad and at one point in time he coached 10 of the 11 girls on IR’s 2019 roster.

A physical education teacher at Indian River, O’Shields is taking over the head coaching reins from Erika Murphy and is set to lead a team that is coming off consecutive DIAA state tournament appearances.

“I know a lot of these girls, I’ve coached them throughout the years,” he said. “I just thought I’m here at the high school and it’s been a while since they’ve had a head coach who works at the high school, so I said ‘you know what? I’m here with the kids, maybe I can coach, communicate with them and help bring them along.’”

“He’s coached every single one of us, except for I think one, at some point in our life, so we’re very familiar with him,” senior Grace Snyder said of her new coach. “It’s good to have a familiar face. Change can always be good or bad, so I’m excited to see what we can do this year and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a great year.”

The Indians made a semifinal appearance in 2017 before falling to eventual state champion Milford High, then suffered an early first-round exit against Lake Forest High a season ago.

“Last year we lost in the first round, so that was kind of sad, but this year I want to see us go far and I think we definitely have the ability to do so. It should be exciting,” senior infielder Kathryn Collins said.

“We definitely want to get back there and make it a little further,” added senior starting pitcher Abby O’Shields.

The Indians lost a trio of seniors — Julia Bomhardt, Braydee Whitman and Damya Williams — from that 2018 team, leaving plenty of holes to fill in the starting lineup.

“It’s hard to replace those seniors,” coach O’Shields said. “Julia Bomhardt was probably one of the best centerfielders in the state, Braydee played really good third base and Damya was a starter the last two or three years in the outfield.”

While the current roster doesn’t include any freshmen, sophomores Isabell “Izzy” Alley, Taylor Lipkins, Brandi Mitchell, Savannah O’Shields, Jessica Rybicki and Kayler Townsend are poised to play a large role on the field this season.

“I think we had six freshmen last year, so now they’re sophomores and they have some experience,” coach O’Shields continued. “They’ve all played at the varsity level, which is helpful, so I’m hoping everyone can step up and fill those shoes.”

O’Shields isn’t the type of coach to name captains, he says, but he’s expecting to see plenty of veteran leadership from the trio of this year’s seniors in Abby, Snyder and Collins.

Grace Snyder

“As a coach I’m a little different,” he said. “I don’t establish captains, more like leaders. I had a meeting with the juniors and seniors before the season and let them know that there are no captains, but I expect people to step up and lead. Thus far the three seniors have been very good leaders.”

“We’ve known each other a long time,” said Collins. “Abby, Grace and I have all played since we were little, playing tee-ball together, so we’re all close in general not just on the field.”

O’Shields and Alley split time in the pitcher’s circle last year, but this year’s squad will likely boast a three-player rotation with Morgan Bomhardt joining last season’s pitching duo.

Bomhardt is one of just two juniors on the team, joining first base/outfielder Kaylah Briddell.

“We have three pitchers at the varsity level this year — Abby, Morgan Bomhardt and Izzy — I’m going to give them all equal time in the pitcher’s circle during scrimmages and try to see where they are and what we need to work on,” said coach O’Shields.

“It definitely gives us more options,” Abby said of the trio. “We can switch it around more because all of us have different best pitches, movements and speeds, so I think it’s really going to keep the batters on their toes throughout the season.”

“It’s great to have variety and having one lefty and two righties, we can definitely switch it up,” said Snyder. “They all have different strengths and weaknesses, which is great because they work off of each other.”

With IR’s season-opener at Woodbridge High Friday, March 22 quickly approaching, the Indians have yet to sit down and set team goals.
For now, O’Shields is just worried about team chemistry and playing together as a family.

“We want our girls to work hard and gel as a team and a family,” he said. “The good thing is we’re going to have these girls for quite a few years – we only have three seniors again this year – so we want to gel as a family and work hard.

“Our short-term goal is to make the playoffs, and then anything can happen from there. Once you make the playoffs, anyone can make a run.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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