Softball team returns solid core heavy on talent
The Hillsboro High School softball team probably will not look at the 2013 season as a title defense. The Trojans lost their entire outfield and the right side of the infield to graduation.
But Hillsboro still has plenty of returning players with plenty of talent.
“I think the girls come back thinking we would like to get back to state and see how we can do,” head coach Stephanie Sinclair said.
An early emphasis for Sinclair is securing the middle of the defense. Lucky for Sinclair, the two most difficult positions are already filled.
Junior Danae Bina returns at shortstop. Sinclair said in her first week of practice following the state basketball tournament Bina has already dazzled with the glove, making diving and backhanded stops. Combine Bina’s defensive ability with her speed and hitting acumen and she has all the tools a coach would want. While Sinclair cannot remember a time when a Bina blast actually cleared the outfield fence, she thinks her shortstop can hit for power as well. Bina hit third for the Trojans last season and is set to be a middle of the order staple for Hillsboro again.
“Danae will continue to get better,” Sinclair said. “She has to be one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.”
Sophomore Bradli Nowak returns at catcher. Nowak caught nearly every inning for the Trojans last year, including every inning during the state tournament. Nowak may split time with fellow sophomore Madison Klein, with the two players switching between catcher and second base, but Nowak definitely provides a calming presence for Hillsboro pitchers with her ability to block pitches in the dirt.
As a hitter, Nowak improved as the season progressed last year including a 3-for-4 performance against Chaparral during the state tournament. Sinclair said Nowak could also hit for average and power in the middle of Hillsboro’s lineup.
Klein should be Courtney Weber’s likely replacement at second base, but is competing with a few other infield prospects. She should move up in the batting order this year; she served as a secondary leadoff designated hitter for Trojans last season in the nine hole. Sinclair said the lefty hitter has improved strength this season.
The fourth player who could hit for average and power for Hillsboro is Tena Loewen. Sinclair has pegged Loewen as the foundation for a rebuilt outfield this season. She should take over in center field for Stephanie Sanders.
Loewen is a familiar face on the diamond, starring at the plate, on the rubber, and at shortstop her sophomore year. However, an ACL tear suffered during her junior basketball season kept Loewen on the bench all spring and summer. She was not cleared for athletic competition until the first day of volleyball practices.
“If you take a year off, anybody would feel rusty,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair expects that rust to shake off quickly. With tremendous speed, Loewen has already shown the ability to cover a massive amount of outfield grass in practices. That same speed could be used to leg out singles on the base paths.
Like Bina, Loewen is a five-tool softball player: arm, glove, bat for average, bat for power, and speed.
“She can pretty much play anywhere on that field,” Sinclair said.
One place Sinclair is going to put Loewen is on the rubber. Early on Leowen is set to take on the role of flame-throwing reliever for the Trojans.
“I like to know we can go to her if we need her,” Sinclair said.
She may not be necessary if sophomore Allison Weber pitches like she did last season. Weber became Hillsboro’s ace late in the 2012 season. It was a move that paid dividends with Weber pitching every inning at the state tournament, including all 13 frames in the 3-2 victory over Rock Creek in the championship game.
Weber is also a hard thrower, but has the ability to throw a drop ball for strikes to freeze hitters. In fact, Weber’s greatest strength is consistently throwing strikes and getting ahead in counts.
When not on the rubber, Weber will likely play first base or center field for Hillsboro. She is one of four players with the ability to lead off for the team. Weber was a lefty slap hitter in the two hole for the Trojans last season.
Fellow sophomore Julie Sinclair will also pitch again for Hillsboro this season. Sinclair is a change of pace from Weber and Loewen, relying more on a mix of off speed pitches to get hitters out. She pitched effectively in early games for Hillsboro last season.
Sinclair is the likely replacement for Sammy Koons at first base. Along with Weber, freshman Shannon Heiser has also gotten looks at first base.
The other corner infield spot is locked down by senior Erin Loewen. Erin Loewen played all last season at third base and will reprise her role at the hot corner. Sinclair is also looking for Loewen to provide leadership as one of two seniors on the squad with Tena Loewen.
Erin Loewen received few at bats last year, being the Trojans’ designated defensive player.
The remaining two outfield spots are up for grabs between junior Kalie Siebert and sophomores Emily Jost and Kennedy Lucero. None of those players has edge as far as varsity high school experience in the field. Sinclair said each player showed ability in limited plate appearances last season.
“With two defenders that are equal, I’m going to go with the better bat,” Sinclair said.
Lucero may have a slight edge based on her pinch running experience last season. She became a player Sinclair could count on in key situations.
“She never got out because of a mistake she made,” Sinclair said. “Knock on wood, she doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.”
The Trojans begin the season April 2 at home against Nickerson. The team then travels to Hesston April 5, with an anticipated date with the Swathers. Sinclair also said matchups with Pratt, April 26 at home, and Haven, April 30 in Haven will feature tough opponents.