By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
HAMILTON, Ill. -- The West Hancock softball team dares to be different.
The old cliche goes that pitching and defense produce titles on the ball diamond. The Titans value both. They simply value hitting and offense a shade more.
"Our defense is pretty decent, too," shortstop Haleigh Hammel said. "We still work on that. But three-fourths of our practice will be on hitting, because hitting wins games."
It certainly produced a lot of wins last season. Riding a wave of mostly freshmen and sophomore talent in 2012, the Titans went 21-8. That was up from their 12-11 mark in 2011 and 4-17 record in 2010. West Hancock averaged 7.9 runs per game last season. Quincy Notre Dame, which averaged 8.5 runs per game, was the only Illinois area team to average more.
"Hopefully the hitting will continue," said second-year coach Gena Dewald, who doesn't shy away from the fact that she's a coach who emphasizes offense. "We do lots and lots of (hitting) drills."
The Titans should be just as potent this season. They return five starters in the field and six in the lineup. All six returnees batted at least .303 last season.
Five returners -- juniors Shelby Koehler, Allison Dewald and Hammel and sophomores Katie Schafer and Alexis Dooley -- were all-area selections last season. No other area team features that many all-area returnees.
"Pretty much our goal is to keep hitting like we hit last year," Allison Dewald said. "I think once one of us starts hitting, we all start hitting. And with Haleigh at the top (of the lineup), she's always a good leadoff."
QND defeated West Hancock 4-1 in last year's Class 2A Camp Point Regional title game. The Lady Raiders are in Class 3A this year. Add that with all the firepower the Titans have returning, and it's got them thinking that a regional title could be very attainable this year.
"I have high hopes for the team," Hammel said. "Winning regionals is a goal."
If that happens, it would mark the first regional championship for West Hancock, which started as a co-op of Hamilton, Warsaw and Nauvoo-Colusa in 2008.
"A lot of people probably weren't expecting too much out of us (last year) since we were younger last year," said Koehler, a two-time first-team all-area selection who batted .444 with five home runs and 46 RBIs last season. "And now this year, since we had experience last year, we should be able to put it all together and hopefully have a pretty good season."
West Hancock also treats its pitching approach differently than a lot of other area teams. Generally, top softball teams find one strong pitcher and allow her to toss at least 90 percent of the innings.
Last season, Koehler and Dewald shared the pitching load, with each player playing somewhere else on the diamond when she wasn't pitching.
"It gives you help because if you're not on that day, you know you have somebody else to back you up," Koehler said. "If there's only one, you just have to fight through it. But when there's two of us, there is always backup."
Koehler and Dewald will be counted on in the pitcher's circle again this season, and Dooley also should see some time in the circle.
A three-headed pitching attack would be fairly unique. Yet, daring to be different seems to pay off for West Hancock.
"If we're winning games, it doesn't really matter (how) I guess," Allison Dewald said.