Southern Columbia surprised some folks by making it to the PIAA Class A state finals last year.

The Tigers lost to Fannett-Metal, 1-0, in that game, but the good news for Southern was that its core was intact for this season.

The bad news for the Tigers was that when that last pitch was thrown in 2012, they officially got bumped up to Class AA and promoted to Division II of the Heartland Conference.

A repeat run through the playoffs and back to State College isn't out of the question, but it will be considerably harder.

There are other area teams in the same boat as the Tigers, as far as returning key pieces of last year's team, and others still have positions up for grabs as the season was set to kick off Friday until the fields were deemed unplayable.

With the end-of-March weather being more nuisance than menace, a question mark lingers over the exact start date for any of the area's teams.

"They're champing at the bit," Southern Columbia head coach Al Cihocki said. "We got some practices on the field, but the kids are ready to go."

Southern has good reason to be ready to go. Eight position starters and the Tigers' dangerous designated hitter return.

Among those coming back for Southern Columbia are last year's News-Item Player of the Year, Mallory Tomaschik.

She has already committed to continue her playing career at Bloomsburg University after hitting .363 with 27 RBIs and 32 runs scored as a junior. Tomaschik also smacked seven home runs, nine doubles and a triple. In the circle, she threw 170 innings for 1.27 ERA and 184 strikeouts. That's a productive year, and she's looking to build on it in 2013.

"Mallory has gotten better," Cihocki said. "Her ball is moving and I think she's matured after last year."

Also back are fellow seniors, shortstop Kirstin Blass and third-baseman Kayla Lavella, as is sophomore Taylor Hoffman. All three were all-area players.

Blass hit .494 with five double and four triples. Lavella hit .482 with eight doubles, a triple and three home runs, and Hoffman started her career off with a .494 average, an area-leading 14 doubles and four home runs.

But Southern Columbia will have to contend with two-time state champ Warrior Run twice in the regular season, as well as Loyalsock and Central Columbia with the move to Division II.

"We should compete even at AA," Cihocki said. "We can play with those teams."

The Tigers will need to replace catcher Mary McGinley, but think freshman Blair Johnston is ready for the task.

Lourdes is also in AA this year and can attest to how tough it is up there. The Red Raiders will drop to Division II of the Schuylkill League, although that may be a mixed blessing by having to face Minersville, Tri-Valley and Williams Valley twice a year instead of Pottsville, Pine Grove and North Schuylkill.

The key for Lourdes to make a second straight appearance in the district playoffs is also the fact that its core group is coming back.

The list is headed by senior CharLee Rosini, who hit .507 last year with seven doubles, five triples, 17 runs and 25 RBIs. Rosini also posted a 2.38 ERA in the circle in 135 innings with 84 strikeouts.

Shortstop Peyton Klembara was also an all-area player last season with a .400 average and 27 runs scored. The Red Raiders' third all-area player from a year ago, Nikki Komara, decided not to play this season.

"Our core group will keep Lourdes competitive," Lourdes head coach Scott Long said. "The difference will be contributions from newcomers to the starting lineup."

Shamokin also has a core of players with bundles of experience, just not in the positions they'll be playing this year.

Two years ago, when the bulk of the Indians' roster now were freshmen, Shamokin made the District 4 playoffs. The Indians were just shy of that last year with a 7-11 record.

That same group returns, with two years of experience, but a change in pitcher due to the graduation loss of Steph Pancher, which necessitates a change at shortstop and in the outfield. With only 12 players on the roster, that's a considerable amount of shuffling on the diamond.

Helena Supsic, who took a loss in her only start of the season last year, will take over in the circle. If she's short on varsity experience, she's big on work ethic.

"Helena has been working hard," Shamokin head coach Christi Cryder said. "She worked with the track team during the winter to pick up some speed and get her legs stronger."

All-area player Olivia Bonshock will stay at third after leading the team in extra-base hits last year.

Natalie Wolfe or Jenny Hornberger will take over for Supsic at short, while Courtney McGrath should be the permanent fixture in center.

"The kids have all played, it's just a matter of getting used to that new position," Cryder said.

North Schuylkill, because of tremendous graduation losses, will see lots of new faces take the field.

Among the players gone are last year's Pitcher of the Year, Cassie Lapotsky, as well as Madison Newhouser, Robyn Orth, Johnna Cappel and Dana Achenbach.

"(The graduation losses) are hard to replace, but the kids are very respectful," North Schuylkill head coach Dominick Grasso said. "They're a great bunch of kids to coach.'

"It's the most excited I've been. We've got a lot of good kids coming through the system. ... It's a fun bunch of kids to coach.''

"It's a new era for North Schuylkill softball. We hope to have the same old results.''

Among those new players are sophomore pitcher Christie Hutira. Dominique Grasso, a senior, will handle the duties behind the plate.

Other players with experience from last year's District 11 Class AA runner-up are junior Bri Schlauch and sophomore Chase Stokes, in addition to senior starters Kayla Bolinsky and Brooke Ennis.

"I say this every year, but if we make districts, it would be a great year," Grasso said.

Line Mountain will once again try to make a run at a playoff spot.

The Eagles have five starters returning, but must also replace their starting battery.

Savanna Copson and Sarah Lahr will alternate in the circle. Each saw some time there last year, although neither won a contest.

A bigger help to whoever takes the ball will be if the Eagles' offense can get more runs across the plate than in 2012.

Centerfielder Deidre Long, an all-area player last year as a freshman, is back and can set the table, but the Eagles will need to find someone to get her home.

"We're looking to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season," Line Mountain head coach Jordan Taraschuk said.

Line Mountain

Coach: Jordan Taraschuk

2012 record: 3-16

Players: Seniors - Savanna Copson (SS, P), Casey Masser (1B) and Sarah Lahr (LF, P). Juniors - Brooke Long (SS), Madeline Reed (2B), Lauren Giordani (OF) and Kelsea Rebuck (OF). Sophomores - Deidre Long (CF), Jayci London, Bre Boyer, Shania Kerstetter, Alex Balavage, Keyla Brill, Kaela Laudenslager and Meredith Long. Freshmen - Kiana Lukoskie, Carissa Burns, Mariah Franke, Michaela Haddock and Courtney Yeager.

Outlook: Five starters return from a team that underachieved last season, with hopes of improving this year. The key will be to get the bats going, while in the circle the Eagles will have to choose between Savanna Copson and Sarah Lahr, who started a total of three games last season. Look for lots of lineup juggling as leaders emerge.

Lourdes

Coach: Scott Long

2012 record: 12-8

Players: Seniors - CharLee Rosini (P, SS), Emily Long (CF) and Kara Kuehner (OF, 1B). Juniors - Anna Raybuck (3B), Peyton Klembara (SS, P), Angelique Pennypacker (1B), Jayme Lentini (OF), Gabby Long (OF), Caity Avellino (INF) and Kaitlyn Milo (OF). Sophomores - Caity Funk (C). Freshmen - Karley Spangler (OF), Miranda Moser (INF), Jess Stancavage (1B, OF), Kayleigh Shovlin (INF), Maddie Shurock (INF), Kaylene Sinopoli (INF), Shannon Tanney (INF) and Joanna Davidson (INF).

Outlook: Lourdes' core is back for one more go at it. Pitcher and power hitter CharLee Rosini is a senior this year after hitting .507 last year with seven doubles and five triples. The key is for Rosini to maintain her 2.38 ERA in the circle and for the defense to back her up.

North Schuylkill

Coach: Dominick Grasso

2012 record: 14-9

Players: Seniors - Kayla Bolinsky (2B), Brooke Ennis (3B) and Dominique Grasso (C). Juniors - Bri Schlauch (OF), Nadya Spotts (SS) and Zierra Treshock (OF). Sophomores - Christie Hutira (P), Alex Morgan (OF), Eliza Schally (OF) and Chase Stokes (1B). Freshmen - Kelly Damiter (OF), Rachel Gricoski (P, 3B), Tiffany Lapotsky (INF) and Abbey Peleschak (OF).

Outlook: The Spartans lost quite a bit from a team that finished second in District 11 Class AA. Breaking in a new pitcher to replace Cassie Lapotsky will be a tall order. Sophomore Christie Hutira will get the first crack, but the Spartans have a freshman also on the roster who could see some action.

Shamokin

Coach: Christi Cryder

2012 record: 7-11

Players: Senior - Courtney McGrath (CF). Juniors - Helena Supsic (P), Jenny Hornberger (SS, OF), Natalie Wolfe (SS, OF), Brie Bonshock (2B), Olivia Bonshock (3B), Kelsey Forbes (OF) and Caitlyn Augustitus (C). Sophomores - Jacquelyn Augustitus (1B), Carley Nash (P), Heather Elliot (OF) and Kourtnie Chapman (OF).

Outlook: If it seems this group of Indians has been around a while, it's because the seven freshmen who started are still only juniors. That core has played a lot of softball together, but will have to rally around new starting pitcher, Helena Supsic. Supsic's move from shortstop means a couple other lineup moves for the Indians.

Southern Columbia

Coach: Al Cihocki

2012 record: 23-4

Players: Seniors - Kirstin Blass (SS), Megan Chaundy (1B), Kayla Lavella (3B), Kim Reigle (OF), Mallory Tomaschik (P, 3B) and Erin Troup (OF). Juniors - McKenna Lupold (2B), Angela Vought (3B) and Erin Yoder (OF). Sophomores - Becky Harder (OF), Nicole Hoffman (OF), Taylor Hoffman (DP), Kayla Levan (OF), Julia Podpora (OF) and Amber Welkom (INF). Freshmen - Mackenzie Chaundy (INF), Jadyn Dunkelberger (INF), Abbey Herr (P), Blair Johnston (C), Haley Levan (INF) and Jordyn Ryzner (OF).

Outlook: Things got a lot harder for Southern Columbia in going from Class A to AA and Division III to II in the Heartland Conference. Last year's PIAA Class A runner-up thinks it's up to the challenge of facing Warrior Run, Loyalsock and Central Columbia twice a year and possibly again in the playoffs. Last year's Player of the Year, Mallory Tomaschik, is back as is most of the Tigers' lineup.