TOLEDO — Two Cumberland softball players, who have been a part of the Lady Pirates' back-to-back Class 1A regional championships, are to continue their softball careers at Olney Central College. The two are Liberty Dunaway and Danae Sowers, both seniors.
"They both come from a quality high school program, quality travel ball program (Mattoon Cobras) and they are competitors," said OCC coach Nick Short, who is in his 10th season. "At Olney that is first and foremost on my list of things to see. It is a kid that is going to go out and compete and compete consistently and regularly. For the past 18 months to two years that I have seen them play, that is what I look for and what I expect them to do when they come and play for me."
Both Dunaway and Sowers decided over the summer to play and attend Olney, a Division I National Junior College Athletic Association team that competes in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (along with Lake Land). While Dunaway is undecided on her field of study, Sowers is going into nursing.
"I think its a good thing for us to go together knowing each other our entire lives, and being able to room together will be pretty fun," said Dunaway.
Sowers said of them both going to the same school, "It makes me feel a lot more comfortable than when I thought I would be without her."
Dunaway was a unanimous all-Little Okaw Valley Conference Southeast Division player last year. She was on the first team her sophomore season and unanimous selection her freshman year. Over the last two seasons, Dunaway has hit .329 and is 45-27 from the pitcher's circle the last three seasons.
Sowers has hit .364 over the last two seasons.
"As a head coach these are the first two that have signed somewhere," said Cumberland coach John Hendrix, who is to be in his third season. "I am very excited for them to play at the next level. They are both good students, and I think Olney is a good fit for them."
As for why Olney, Sowers said, "It is close to home and I like being close to home and the school is a lot like Cumberland."
Dunaway said, "It is a lot like high school and I think a smaller school with a lower number of kids fits me better."
The two have been on teams that have gone a combined 60-34.
"Liberty is going to pitch, and as long as she can swing the bat like she can and progress like we would expect her to, she is going to compete for a spot in the outfield when she is not pitching," said Short. "Danae is going to have a chance to compete everywhere. We will move her around the infield and outfield. She is one of those utility kids that you can do that with, and that is going to hopefully be tremendously beneficial for us."
Olney was 30-25 last season and 19-15 in the GRAC. Charleston graduate Allyson O'Dell was second on the team in hitting at .432 and is one of six sophomores for the Blue Angels. Also playing this year are two Casey-Westfield graduates in Lindsay Beasley and Mackenzie Morgan. Mattoon's Rylee Phillips also signed to play next year. Short said he plans to have 10-12 incoming freshmen for the 2019-20 school year.
Hendrix said of Liberty, "She can throw the ball really well and has a nice curveball. She has a good demeanor in the pitcher's circle and can take over games when she wants to. She can play a very good outfield too. She takes very good angles and gets good jumps on the ball and has a very good arm for an outfielder. As a hitter, she does a very good job of hitting for the high average. Both Liberty and Danae can hit for the gaps, and they both get better last year with their short game. They can get on base in bunts and that just adds another aspect to their game."
As for Sowers Hendrix said, "She is very versatile. Last season I wanted her to play more in the middle, but then with an injury (to Ali Maynard) we didn't have anyone at first base, and that is where she played the year before. She has got great hands and is a very good first baseman."
Dunaway played for five years with the Cobras, while Sowers played for seven years.
"I started playing softball when I was nine, and it was at that point it was set in stone that I would play in college," said Sowers.
Dunaway said she started playing when she was seven and has wanted to play college softball most of her life.
"It is pretty great knowing that I am going to Olney," said Dunaway. "Especially knowing that they are a great college."
Sowers said it means a lot to her to be going to play college softball.
"It means all of the hard work that I put in back when I was younger has paid off and it makes me feel good," said Sowers.