26 March 2014

Softball: A couple of big holes to fill

Senior captain Jordyn Keprios (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Coach Paul Harrington returns nine players from last spring, most of whom have played roles in back-to-back state tournament appearances by the Tigers.

As important as the returnees are to the 2014 season, however, perhaps just as telling are the two seniors from the 2013 team who graduated last spring, all-state pitcher Ashley Betzold and all-section catcher/infielder Toni Hunsinger.

"Those are never easy shoes to fill," Harrington said. "Not only did they play important positions but they were also some big bats in the heart of our line-up for the past two seasons. We are looking for kids to step up and take over those spots." 

The nine veterans include senior captain Jordyn Keprios and Mackenzie Nelson; junior captains Taylor Yousse and Molly Berdan, Amber Doyle and Ashley Ibinger; sophomore Carly Esselman and ninth-graders Emily Berdan and Maddie Muelken.

Lead-off hitter Carly Esselman (photo by J. Lindquist)
Centerfielder Esselman and clean-up hitter Doyle were both all-Missota Conference selections last spring. Molly Berdan received all-league honorable mention and Emily Berdan won the team's Most Improved Player Award.

Muelken occasionally spelled Betzold in the circle last season and she and sophomore Meghan Silber are the likely candidates to handle most of the pitching chores this spring.

Freshman Caitlyn Dully has also performed well in early workouts and could see varsity playing time this spring.

"We're still looking for others to step up, too," Harrington said.

The late-arriving spring weather has limited the Tigers to indoor drills and dome scrimmages, but from what Harrington has seen the potential for another solid season is there.

"From what we have seen so far, we need to see more consistency," he said. "We have stretches when we do everything well, so we know we can do it. 

"However, there are definitely times that we have not been getting it done on offense, defense or on the mound. Everyone needs to work harder and longer to get better prepared for our future games."

Junior captain Molly Berdan (photo by J. Lindquist)

Harrington said the keys to a successful season are simple ones.

"We start with pitching and defense," he said. "We can't walk anyone and we can't be committing errors. If we don't give away runs we will have a chance to be in the running at the end of the season.

"We want to keep improving every game, every week and be playing our best come playoff time. Ultimately, we want to put it all together in the post-season and get back to the state tournament for the third straight year."

Harrington tabbed defending champion Chanhassen and Shakopee as the teams to beat in the race for Missota Conference honors and Hastings and Lakeville South the major obstacles in the path to a return trip to state.

Former Lakeville North head coach and fellow ex-Tiger Randy Schmitz is Harrington's varsity assistant with another former Tiger, Jim Swedin, handling the B-squad coaching chores. Veteran Loren Cartwright will coach the junior varsity and Ryan Dennis will coach the ninth grade team.

"We are very excited about adding a fourth team to our high school program this year," Harrington said. "This will be the first year we have been able to do that. This is a huge step forward as we get prepared to transition to the South Suburban Conference."

The Tigers are scheduled to open the season at Red Wing on April 3, a date likely to change due to the weather.

(above) Amber Doyle  All-Missota Conference in 2013; (below) junior captain Taylor Yousse (photos by Jim Lindquist)