|?A huge core of returning letter-winners gives Trojan coach Stephanie Sinclair good reason to think this year?s team might exceed last year?s program-best record of 18-3. Pictured are: back row (from left), Rachelle Goldsby, Amber King, Suzy Lindsay, Lora Andrews, Jandi Nikkel, Amanda Bina; front row, Meghan Jost, Jessica Klose, Jenesa Klose and Steph Abbott.|
Try an undefeated record in league play and a first-ever state-tournament berth.
With six all-league performers and 10 letter-winners returning, those goals are within reach, according to Stephanie Sinclair, who is in her second year as head coach.
?I don?t think I?m putting our goals too high,? Sinclair said. ?I think those girls actually have (an undefeated league record) on their minds too without saying it. They definitely want to get to state. They don?t want to finish anywhere but some place in the state.?
Hillsboro came about as close as a team can come to qualifying for state last season, losing 6-5 to longtime nemesis Southeast of Saline with the tying run at third base in the last inning.
?I don?t think our girls are one bit afraid of anybody after playing that game last year, knowing how close we were,? Sinclair said.
Key to taking that next step is to improve their defensive play, which was pretty good already last season. Sinclair said the two games they lost in league play also were the games in which they committed the most errors.
?Looking at our average in errors, we averaged 2.25 and I?d like to get that down to about one per game,? Sinclair said. ?With the kids that are returning, that could happen.?
At the core of the this year?s team are those six all-league returners. Picked for the second team as sophomores were Amanda Bina at shortstop (.552 batting average, two home runs, 21 runs batted in, 44 runs scored), Suzy Lindsay in the outfield (.365, 18 RBI, 24 runs) and Jenesa Klose at pitcher (8-1 record, 1.39 earned-run average, .281 batting).
Receiving honorable mention were Jessica Klose at catcher (.436, 26 RBIs, 25 runs), Lora Andrews at first base (.184, 13 RBI, 10 runs), and Rachelle Goldsby as designated hitter (.367, 7 RBI, 17 runs).
Softball success begins in the pitching circle, where Jenesa Klose will hurl both ends of the doubleheaders this season following the graduation of her first-team all-league teammate Laura Lindsay (10-1, 1.49 ERA).
?Jenesa can throw both games,? Sinclair said. ?She?s done a lot of that during the summer, sometimes throwing five games in a day. So I guess I don?t worry too much about that.
?She?s throwing six pitches right now, and I?d say five of them are working pretty good for her.?
Her battery mate at catcher is also her twin sister, Jessica.
?That?s a good combination, Jenesa and Jessica, because they know each other so well, being sisters,? Sinclair said. ?I put a lot on Jenessa to call a lot of pitches because she?ll know what?s on and what?s off more from her aspect than I will from mine.
?I put a lot of trust in them?and they deserve that trust because they?ve earned it.?
Junior Steph Abbott, the team?s starting third baseman, is available to pitch if needed, and freshman Diane Sanders is a prospect.
Most of the rest of Sinclair?s infield is set, with Andrews at first, Bina at shortstop and Abbott (.328, 12 RBI) at third.
Second base is the only question mark, with the biggest battle being between junior Amber King and freshman Breanna Loewen, who could also see some time in the outfield.
Suzy Lindsay will anchor that outfield in center, but the other two positions are still fluid.
?We have a lot of possibilities, depending on the situation we?re in,? Sinclair said.
Among the candidates are Jandi Nickel, Goldsby, Corissa Bartel and Meghan Jost?all juniors. Aside from Goldsby with 30, the other three combined for only 22 at-bats a year ago.
Given the depth of her team?s experience and talent, Sinclair listed several squad strengths.
?I think their biggest strength is that they get along so well,? she said. ?They can turn serious stuff into fun, and they?re focused when we?re doing situations and we need to be focused.
?I think the girls on the field are good communicators, also, and that?s key,? Sinclair added. ?They also understand the game very well and why I do things the way I do. They?re easy to teach.?
In regard to skills, Sinclair said her team will be strong in the middle field, even though the second-base starter, whoever it turns out to be, will be relatively inexperienced at that position.
In regard to question marks, the Trojan skipper has her eye on the two open positions in the outfield.
?We need to be strong in right field and left field yet,? Sinclair said. ?Two of the girls lack a little confidence in batting, but they?re experienced girls. They just haven?t played as much (in the outfield).?
This team will be productive at the plate, last year scoring 224 runs?three short of the program record. As a team, the Trojans batted .344, third-best in program history.
That said, Sinclair said her team has been working hard on its short game?bunting and base running.
?Everybody on our team better know how to bunt,? she said. ?We work on that daily and that?s a big part of our game when it comes to scoring runs. More is expected now of every player than maybe five years ago. They?re more talented now.
?The other thing we?ve been working on as a team is just getting faster,? Sinclair said. ?We?ve done a lot of timed running, and a lot of them have cut their time by half a second to first after a bunt. We also do some timing from first to second in a stealing situation.?
The Trojans are scheduled to unveil their arsenal of weapons March 30, when they travel to Wichita Collegiate for a season-opening doubleheader starting at 3 p.m.
Their home opener is set for the following Tuesday, April 3, when Nickerson comes to the Sports Complex for a doubleheader starting at 4:30 p.m.