With the loss of only two seniors on a team deep with varsity experience, the Hills?boro softball team is looking to get back to state this spring.
The Trojans (18-5) lost in the finals of their Class 3A sub-state in 2013, snapping a four-year state streak. With the move to 2-1A this year, the competition is less familiar.
?We know there are tough teams at every level,? coach Stephanie Sinclair said. ?We just want to be the best team we can be.?
The Trojans have the talent and experience to be pretty tough. Six players return who received all-league recognition a year ago as co-champions of the Central Kansas League.
Danae Bina, the only senior on this year?s roster, was a first-team pick at shortstop with a team-high batting average of .566 and led the team with 40 runs batted in and 47 runs scored.
?We really want to do some things well just to make Danae feel good about her senior year,? Sinclair said. ?We want everybody to support her as much as she supports us?and the leadership she brings, you can?t replace somebody like that.?
Named to the CKL?first team as a second baseman last year as a sophomore was Madison Klein, who alternated between second and catcher with classmate Bradli Nowak, who was a second-team all-league pick behind the plate.
Last season, Klein batted .558 with 30 RBIs while Nowak hit .418 with 27 RBIs.
?I feel like both of them improved over the summer with their hitting and their leadership skills,? Sinclair said.
Another junior, Julie Sinclair, returns as a first-team all-league performer at second base and the Trojans? No. 2 pitcher. Sinclair hit .371 with 24 RBIs.
On the mound, the lefthander posted a 7-1 record with an earned-run average of 1.92, including 48 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 39 innings.
It may be bad news for their opponents, but the Trojans also return their No. 1 pitcher, junior Allison Weber, a second-team all-league pick at that position. Weber went 9-2 with an ERA of 4.25 over 80 innings. She struck out 57 batters and walked 21.
At the plate, the slap-style leadoff hitter posted a .471 average, scored 36 runs and drove in 30.
Coach Sinclair likes the way her two pitchers complement each other.
?I really feel like they bring a lot of confidence there,? she said. ?They look a little different on the mound (righty and lefty), which is nice, so our opponents don?t see the same style of pitcher both games.?
Filling the gaps
With her all-league performers firmly in place, Coach Sinclair is still tweaking the rest of her lineup.
The two seniors lost to graduation?Tena Loewen, a first-team all-league outfield and .506 hitter, and Erin Loewen, a defensive specialist at third base?will leave holes to fill, but Sin?clair is confident she will.
Junior Emily Jost is the leading candidate to fill the key void in center field. She hit .333 last season with 18 RBIs. Her coach is pleased with her work so far in the field and at the plate.
?I see a lot more confidence in Emily?which is exciting to see,? Sinclair said. ?If I move her to centerfield, she?s long and covers a lot of ground. And she is reading the ball well. She?s had some glimpses of Tena Loewen in her?that?s what you want.?
At third base, junior Shannon Heiser?a .173 hitter with 10 RBIs in a backup role last season?is the leading candidate to step into the ?hot box.?
?She?s playing a good third base right now for us,? Sinclair said. ?We may put her at first, too. She brings confidence to the field defensively, regardless of which corner we put her at.
?It?s been kind of a comfort to know we can use her at either corner and she?s going to be a wall out there.?
Junior Kennedy Lucero is a lock for either left field or right field. Last season, she hit .299 in 67 at-bats.
Weber may take the other outfield opening when she isn?t pitching?which still leaves an opening when she takes the mound. A couple of underclassmen are vying for the opportunity.
?I?m looking forward to having all these girls back,? Sinclair said. ?They bring a lot of experience and a lot of confidence to the field. And they?re building confidence in our younger kids that are going to step up.?
As she looks to the CKL this season, Sinclair believes her team will be a title contender again this season along with Lyons, the team that defeated the Trojans at sub-state, plus Smoky Valley (last year?s co-champion) and Pratt.
?I like the league in terms of the competition it gives us,? she said. ?It challenges us every day that we?re out there playing. I think we have every bit of a chance (to repeat), but we have to play well every night.?
Hillsboro will open the season next Tuesday at Nickerson. They will host Hesston Friday. Games begin at 4:30 p.m