Thursday April 11, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Jessica Lawton pitched North Collins to the program’s first trip to the sectional final. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)
All is not lost this season for North Collins just because the softball team will be replacing most of its starting nine.
Head coach Jan Warren believes a younger group — with only two senior starters — should still be among the contenders to get back to the Section VI finals after making the championship game for the first time in program history last season.
Last year, the Eagles fought hard but lost a one-run game to Forestville in the final, after reaching the big game the program has been building up to for years.
“I’m excited, even being as young as were are,” Warren said. “If we have early success, we can build off of that. There is no reason we can’t be just as good as last year.
“The inexperience is definitely the scary part. I need to see how they react but if we do like we’ve done in practice, we should be just fine,” he added.
One area where there is little concern is the pitcher-catcher battery of Jessica Lawton and Beth Kibler, respectively.
Lawton, a senior, returns to the mound after being named to the All-CCAA First Team. Warren said she’s been changing her speeds effectively and hitting her spots so far in practice. Her junior catcher Kibler is a solid backstop who was not being run on hardly at all in the second half of last season.
North Collins also has some experience in the outfield where senior Christine Blidy returns to center and junior Kylie Mathis will again be a starter in left.
Blidy, a second team all-league player, covers a great deal of ground and threw out three runners at the plate last season. This year, she’ll also be counted on as one of the team’s hardest hitters after becoming more selective at the plate over the course of 2012.
Three-fourths of the starting infield spots will be filled by sophomore newcomers, but Warren has a good feeling about this class of players.
While junior Nicole Torrey moves from starting at second to her more natural position at third, Erica Bley will fill the starting spot at first, Felicia Bateman gets the call at second and Jenna Keppel will be asked to step up at shortstop.
Bateman, who got called up last season and received about 15 varsity at-bats, moves from the outfield, while Bley brings a solid bat and good glove and Keppel is also a two-way talent who will need to learn on the fly. They’ll be replacing CCAA IV Player of the Year Hannah Renaldo at first and all-star Kayla Kron at short.
Another sophomore moving into the starting lineup is Sam Gier, who will play in right field and can also pitch. Warren said he’ll try to get Gier some time on the mound and also encourage her to pitch in the summer to ready for next year.
Serving as the team’s reserves will be seniors Veronica Richardson, who Warren believes will get some at-bats and play as a utility player, and Ashley Trainor, a first baseman and outfielder, along with Junior Destiny Kennedy, who is new to the game but might be able to contribute some power at the plate.
The sophomore class is certainly a reason for optimism, according to Warren. “We should be pretty good if the sophomores play as I expect them to play, he noted. “They love playing, love being out there. There’s a couple more sophomores who could probably come up and play, but I want them to see at-bats (on the JV level).”
After finishing last year’s regular season in a three-way tie for first with Ripley and Panama, Warren expects to be right in the thick of things again. Ripley may offer the biggest challenge, he said, with Forrestville still looking like the class of “D” and CCAA III.
“I told our girls coming back to motivate them, ‘remember what it felt like at the end of last season,’” Warren said.