Hillsboro Softball team sets its focus on first state berth

?I just see them working really hard right now,? said Stephanie Sinclair, who is 29-10 in her first two season as head coach, including 11-7 a year ago.

?I think it helps to have a bunch of seniors who want something really bad,? she said.

What this team wants is what no Trojan team has accomplished since the softball program was launched in 1998: a berth in the Class 3A state tournament.

Hillsboro has made it to the regional championship game five times in those 10 seasons, including last year, only to come up short.

Getting there

What will it take for the Trojans to make it to that next level? Sinclair is hoping a touch of diversity in the pitching rotation will help.

Senior Jenesa Klose, an all-league honorable-mention performer last season, started every game for the Trojans, including both games of the standard doubleheader format. Her 11-7 record mirrored the team?s, and she posted an earned-run average of 3.82.

The previous season, sharing the starting role with then-senior Laura Lindsay, Klose posted an 8-2 record with an ERA of 1.39 for the 18-3 Trojans.

?I think it?s easy for batters to pick up on you in the second game,? Sinclair said. ?The key is if we can find another person to throw a few innings. I want a (second) pitcher to get through a batting order once for me, and maybe a little bit more if they?re doing OK. That?s all I?m asking.?

The leading candidates for some mound time are senior Jessica Klose, who is Jenesa's batterymate and twin sister, and senior Stephanie Abbott, whose primary position is third base.

?They are hard workers,? Sinclair said. ?It?s something they see that we need, just to give Jenessa a little break. Then we can bring her back in to close it.?

Another area Sinclair hopes for improvement in 2008 is hitting. The Trojans sport perhaps the best hitter in the league in senior Amanda Bina, who carries a program-best .517 average through her first three seasons. Last season, frequently in a leadoff role, Bina hit .545 with 15 doubles and 17 runs batted in.

If you take Bina out of the equation, the rest of the team batted a tepid .246.

?I?m seeing that a few of those older girls right now in practice are hitting better,? Sinclair said. ?What I?m really trying to get them to pinpoint is which pitch do you want to hit?that you?re in control, it?s not the pitcher who?s controlling you. When you see the pitch you want, that?s the one you hit. We don?t want to get behind in the count.?

Sinclair also hopes to see additional improvement in her team?s defense, which was actually pretty tough a year ago with an average of only two errors per contest.

?We came really close to our goals last year (of averaging one error per game), but of course it didn?t get us to the next level yet. I hope we can go from two errors to 1.5 this year.?

Probable lineup

The additional year of experience in Sinclair?s lineup may make that goal attainable. She lost only one senior to graduation, Lora Andrews, who played first base.

The leading candidates to fill the vacancy are senior Jandi Nikkel, who was an honorable-mention all-league pick as a right-fielder last year, and sophomore Dianne Sanders, who saw limited action. The pair combined for one hit in 16 at bats in 2007.

Returning at second base is senior Amber King (.231), with Bina holding down the shortstop position and Abbott (.298) at third base. Bina was a first-team all-league selection last season, a second-team pick in 2006 and received honorable mention at third base as a freshman.

Jessica Klose (.321) will catch the majority of innings for Hillsboro, with sophomore Briana Loewen (.217) filling in if Klose is called upon to pitch. Klose was a second-team all-league pick last year for her play behind the plate.

Loewen will play left field otherwise, with senior Suzi Lindsay (.239) in center and senior Meg Jost (.278), sophomore Tara Heinrichs (three at-bats) and freshman Taylor Nikkel battling for the right-field spot. Lindsay received all-league honorable mention for her play in 2007.

League outlook

Making it to state is the ultimate goal for this team, but doing well in the league is also high on the season-goals list.

?A lot of coaches of league schools have kind of pinpointed us and Nickerson to maybe be the top two teams in our league,? Sinclair said. ?Of course, Hoi?s?ing?ton always fields a great team, and Haven will bring back the pitcher they went to state with. So I look at the four of us as being sharp.?

As for her own team?s perspective: ?I think in the back of everybody?s mind is a league title. But still, we haven?t made that jump to get into state. They want that really bad.?

Hillsboro will open its 2008 campaign with a doubleheader against Wichita Collegiate at the Sports Complex. The first game will begin at 4:30 p.m.