Bluejay softball returns four All-KCAC selections

These four returning All-KCAC selections will anchor the Tabor College softball team this season:?(from left)?Araselly Vargas, Sara Vela, Kellyn Holt, Marilee Burge.
These four returning All-KCAC selections will anchor the Tabor College softball team this season:?(from left)?Araselly Vargas, Sara Vela, Kellyn Holt, Marilee Burge.
The Tabor College softball team returns all four of its All-KCAC selections from a year ago, leaving sixth-year coach Suzanne Unruh hopeful for the season ahead.

Last year, the Bluejays finished fourth in the KCAC with a 12-7 record, 26-25 overall. Tabor went 2-2 in the conference tournament, finishing third.

The Bluejays graduated five seniors, but have brought in a recruiting class of 10. In addition to returning players, the new recruits provide a solid roster for Tabor this year.

?With what we?ve brought in this year, we?ve done our best to replace those kids with just as good ball players,? Unruh said. ?We want to set our goals high this year.?

Pitching

Junior Marilee Burge, a first-team All-KCAC pick a year ago and preseason selection this year, returns to anchor the pitching staff. Burge was Tabor?s leader in earned-run average (3.57) and strikeouts (123) last year. She pitched 1762?3 innings, with a 17-11 record plus three saves. Burge ranked 21st nationally in saves, 32nd in innings pitched and 44th in wins. Opponents batted .279 against her.

?This year?s a big year for (Marilee),? Unruh said. ?She really has high goals for herself as well as what she wants the team to do. She?s worked hard.?

Burge?s role has expanded beyond pitching.

?She has been working on her hitting all year,? Unruh said. ?We?ve had her in the lineup when she?s pitches, which kind of gives us an extra hitter.

?She has great contact on the ball. Obviously, when you?re a pitcher, you usually have a good eye on the ball, so hopefully we see good things out of her being in the lineup.?

Sophomore pitcher Tristen Hall returns also. She was 4-4 last year with one save and an ERA of 4.61 over 542?3 innings. Sophomore Brittany Castaneda may be asked to pitch in relief, too.

Joining the veterans are a pair of junior transfers: Brianna Quiroz from Pima Community College, who also may see time in the outfield; and Alecia O?Brien from Rose State College.

Each brings different strengths to the mound, Unruh said.

Catching

Junior Sara Vela, a second-team All-KCAC pick, returns to anchor duties behind the plate. Vela batted .311 in 44 games played last year.

?I feel good with (Sara) behind the plate,? Unruh said. ?She?s smart, very consistent. We?ll have some depth back there, too, with some new kids.?

Splitting time at catcher are sophomore Kaylie Felix and freshman Brittany Van?konynenburg.

Infield

Tabor?s losses in the infield may be most substantial. The Bluejays are without Lauren Massey (first base), Yasnaya Susoeff (second base) and Madison Tracy and Chelsea Nutt (shortstop).

Returning to anchor the infield is Araselly Vargas, a junior third baseman who was a first-team selection a year ago and is a preseason team pick. Vargas led the team in batting average (.342 over 51 games) and runs batted in (56). She ranked 27th nationally in RBIs, 31st in RBIs per game (1.1), 42nd in home runs (12) and 49th in home runs per game (0.24).

Sophomore Tori Rose has been a consistent at shortstop so far this season.

?Tori is a returner but didn?t get much time at short last year,? Unruh said. ?She?s been doing well.?

Additional players with experience in the infield are: Vankonynenburg, Lauren Brown (senior) and Dani Calder (freshman) at first base; Bailey Burnett (senior) and Shanae Strate (freshman) at second; and Emily Ginestra (junior) and Felix at third.

Unruh said roles are still being determined.

?Really, it?s just finding that flow for these right-side infielders,? she said. ?We?ve got good ball players to do it, we just have to put the hitting and the defense together and who?s going to be the best person for the job.?

Outfield

The Bluejays return a solid corps in the outfield, led by senior centerfielder Kellyn Holt, who was Tabor?s leadoff and a second-team selection last year. She batted .301 in 51 games and led the Bluejays in stolen bases with 18.

Holt, who is a member of the KCAC preseason team, brings speed and game awareness.

?I think she?s one of the top three fastest kids in our conference,? Unruh said. ?I?ll start her off in leadoff in the lineup. I always tell her, if she can get on base we?re going to score a run because she just flies around the bases.?

Sophomore Raegan Ternes returns in left field. She batted .265 in 28 games.

Senior Stormie Bush, who returns in right field, batted .321 in 43 games.

Senior Ashton Bowen and freshman Sierra Becerra also have seen time in right in the early going.

KCAC projection

Tabor tied for third in the 2016 KCAC softball coaches? preseason poll with behind Friends and Ottawa.

Unruh said the Bluejays have their eyes on the top.

?These girls want it all,? she said. ?They want to win it. We?re going to keep working on getting to the top. We?re not going to settle for mediocre this year.?

Unruh expects the addition of Oklahoma Wesleyan to strengthen the KCAC.

?Oklahoma Wesleyan (has) always been tough,? she said. ?They?ve got great pitching staff, good coaching. We used to play them in non-conference, and I think they?ll be a contender.?

York College joining the conference as well will put more pressure on teams in the KCAC race.

?I believe we?re only taking eight (teams) to the tournament, so that does make a difference,? Unruh said. ?We?ve really got to push it, now. It gets intense there at the end.?

The Bluejays have faced a tough schedule to start the season, winning just one of their first eight games. Tabor opened with a shutout loss to sixth-ranked Oklahoma City, and the stiff competition continued with a loss to No. 13 University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

Tabor has most recently swept Dordt to improve to 4-9 overall.

Although offense has at times been hard to come by, Unruh is confident she has the components for success.

?The first weekend out, it didn?t really flow well, but on paper, and from what I see in practices, I know it?s going to work if we just kind of keep going with it and stay consistent,? Unruh said.

Coming?Tabor (4-9) will participate at the Friends tournament in Wichita Friday and Saturday.