HHS softball enters new era

Trojan coach Stephanie Sinclair is looking to these four returning letter winners from last year?s Class 3A state runner-up team to be the nucleus for this year?s team. From left: Samantha Moss, Shannon Heiser, Kaden Moss, Mesa Merrell.
Trojan coach Stephanie Sinclair is looking to these four returning letter winners from last year?s Class 3A state runner-up team to be the nucleus for this year?s team. From left: Samantha Moss, Shannon Heiser, Kaden Moss, Mesa Merrell.
After losing a core of six senior starters who led Hillsboro to the Class 3A championship game a year ago, coach Stephanie Sin?clair is building a new core of six to fuel her team in 2016.

Led by Shannon Heiser, a Central Kansas League honorable-mention shortstop who hit .333 and drove in 15 runs in 2015, the Trojans return four letter-winners, plus two more players who came close to lettering.

Joining Heiser as a letter-winner are fellow senior Kalen Moss, junior Mesa Merrell and sophomore Samantha Moss.

Two more sophomores, Taylor Helmer and Sarah Jost, bring valuable experience to the table.

?I feel like I have six returning letter-winners,? Sinclair said, ?because when you come into Hillsboro softball as a freshman, even though you may not always played a lot on the field, you play a lot at practice and you learn a lot.

?It seems like Sarah and Taylor are stepping into those roles smoothly.?

Sinclair is looking for general leadership from those six, but also significant contributions on the field.

Heiser will return at shortstop, but likely will do some pitching as well.

?I?d like to keep her at shortstop, but we know that, having been around softball, she?s picking up pitching pretty easily,? Sinclair said. ?I?d call her more of a reliever because defensively we need her at shortstop.?

Kalen Moss (one hit in seven at-bats last season) will take over at first base, Samantha Moss (two hits in 11 at-bats) will be the No. 1 catcher and Mesa Merrell (15 hits in 57 at-bats) will play third base.

Pitching

Primary pitching responsibilities will fall upon Helmer, while Jost will inherit the center-field position occupied last year by her senior sister, Emily, a year ago. Jost likely will see some pitching action as well.

?Taylor has worked really hard (at pitching) in the off-season,? Sinclair said. ?We?re not going to blow anybody away with our pitching, but if we can change our pitches and keep them off balance, that?s going to help us defensively. She?s pretty consistent against our batters. We don?t get many hits against her.?

Jost is new to pitching at the varsity level, but has shown potential.

?She hasn?t been in a position where batters are hitting balls at her, so she?s a little bit timid,? Sinclair said. ?They all are a little bit that way because they don?t have that much experience there.?

Defensive support

The remaining positions in the lineup will be filled by players with limited or no varsity experience.

In the infield, freshman Trinity Malm will step in at second base, but may play catcher on occasion.

Sinclair said she has two lineup options, depending on game situations.

?We have scenarios where, if we?re going with Taylor Helmer on the mound, then Trinity?s at second,? she said. ?When Shannon pitches, we would like to put Sam at shortstop and Trinity would go to catcher.?

The Trojans have an additional void to fill in the outfield this season. Savannah Unruh, a two-year letter-winner in left field, opted to run track in this her in junior year.

Leading candidates to join Jost in the outfield are senior Erika Bichet, freshman Cheyenne Bernhardt and newcomer Elli Weis?beck, a sophomore.

A combination of varsity inexperience and unusual weather during the preseason have resulted in mixed results with the new outfield corps so far.

?We have our ups and downs because we?ve had a lot of wind to deal with in practice, so it can be discouraging at times,? Sinclair said. ?But I felt like they bounced back right away and are doing what we?re asking them to do.?

Team overview

With a roster of 14 players?nine of whom are underclassmen?Sinclair said her team has several unknown commodities, but as a coach she has only one significant fear.

?My biggest fear is that we?d have injuries, because we?d drop off fast in terms of experience,? she said. ?I?ve got a few more freshmen who are working hard, but are pretty raw. I feel like they come in having played the game, but they haven?t really been coached the game.?

Last year?s 24-2 team averaged nearly eight runs per game and as team hit with a .362 average. Sinclair said she?s still working through the offensive strategy for her new team, which won?t have many experienced hitters.

?I don?t know how to arrange us yet,? she said about her lineup. ?I may go back to old-school Sinclair?somebody get on base, somebody bunt?but we work on all that stuff every day.?

Sinclair and assistant coach Jill Hein have enjoyed the advantages of having a depth of talent and experience returning over the past several seasons.

?It?s a totally different year when you don?t have a lot of experience coming back, but it is a lot of fun to teach,? said Sinclair, who is in her 11th year at the helm with a 186-50 record.

?I try to compare (this team) to when we were young a few years back, when we went 10-10 and that was probably Hillsboro?s worst record,? she said. ?It?s just really hard to compare. With that group of girls, they still had experience because they had played together.

?I just don?t know, but I don?t go home worried.?

The team theme for the season is: ?Faith, no fears.?

?(It means) to create enough faith in each other that you don?t have to fear each other about what we?re going to do,? Sinclair said. ?To see the reps done well and done right, that when we step on the field we have faith in each other, and the fears are subsided.?

Hillsboro opened the season April 1 with a pair of losses to Smoky Valley.