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When the Southwestern Community College softball team starts its season in Nashville, Tennessee on Monday against Columbia State, nearly all of the nation’s teams will already be several weeks into gameplay.
That slow start could mean a rusty beginning for the Spartans softball squad, but what first-year head coach Paige Cassady has seen in terms of work through the winter months lends her an optimistic outlook.
The team did struggle a tad to fill out a complete roster, but picked up three basketball players in freshman Fallyn Beemer and sophomores Chelsi Sams and Alexis Bronner.
Sams, an all-state performer in softball when she played at North Platte High School in Dearborn, Missouri, will immediately become one of the Spartans better hitters while patrolling the left side of the infield, perhaps at third base or shortstop.
Of the 12 players making up this season’s roster, seven are sophomores.
Gone from this squad who played a year ago are Danielle McIntosh, Gabryelle DuBois, Riley Coates, Nikki Tennant, Tiernee Fichter, Brennan Banks, Mel Stevens, Lexi Herbert, Paige Mitchell, Alyssa Hunerdosse and Jordan Major. Only the last two were freshmen.
The turnover may prove problematic to start the season.
The key returnees for Southwestern become a bit more obvious when looking at last season’s stats.
From last year’s 26-26 squad (9-15 in ICCAC play) are returnees like Abby Davis and Kaitlyn Schiefen.
Davis’ bat will be critical to the team’s success. She hit .439 last year, slugged at a rate of .750, cranked out a team-leading 30 extra base hits and totalled 52 runs batted in.
“She’ll be a force,” Cassady said. “I’ll be very surprised if she’s not first-team all-conference. She’s our captain. She’s the best leader we have. Physically she’s come a long way but she’s coming further mentally.”
She also struck out a team-high 28 times. That has been a point of emphasis last fall and in the offseason.
“We’re working more line drives, hitting gaps to where we’re getting a rally going rather than hitting solo home runs,” Cassady said.
Kassie Craig, a sophomore Harlan native, is a season removed from a .314 batting average and 24 RBI. While she is set patrol the corridors of Center field, she can be asked to play in the infield.
While getting on base at the top of the lineup may be an issue to start the season, Cassady has complete confidence in the middle of her lineup.
“We have 3-4-5-6 hitters that can hit them all around. It’s going to be a little bit of a struggle just getting them there,” Cassady said. “Starting the rally; once we get them there, I have confidence in all four of my players that they can get them in.”
While Davis is set to play some shortstop and elsewhere in the field, her pitching is something that will also have to be counted on, albeit in a relief role.
Taking on the main starting role in the circle will be Kaitlyn Schiefen.
The sophomore from Overland Park, Kansas pitched in a team-high 141.2 innings last spring and tossed 14 complete games in 20 starts while compiling a 5.09 E.R.A., 48 walks and 61 strikeouts.
Sophomore JoHana McGuire out of Lebanon, Missouri will see plenty of time in the circle as well. She pitched in 10 different games last season, allowing 39 hits in 18.2 innings and posting a 6.75 E.R.A.
The Spartan pitching rotation is not set to mow down opponents by striking them out. The focus will be on pitch location and getting opposing hitters to put the ball on the ground.
“It’s very important that we keep our errors to a minimum,” Cassady said. “Especially when our pitching staff is a little bit smaller. We’ve got to keep Kaitlyn’s pitch count down and do as much as we can for her and then get up to the plate and produce runs for her.”
Of local interest, Bronner of Villisca, Courtney Phelps of Afton, Cheyenne Haveman of Mount Ayr and Beemer of Bedford are on the squad this season.
Morgan Knorr will, who just finished up as an assistant this season with the women’s basketball team, will be Cassady’s top assistant.
Getting acclimated to the Spartan family has not been too difficult a task for Cassady, who has been in Creston since last summer.
“They’ve kind of taught me the ropes and helped me get to know everybody,” Cassady said about the girls and people in the Creston community.
Cassady expects that per usual, Kirkwood and DMACC will rise to the top of the Iowa Collegiate Athletic Conference.
After the spring break trip to the Volunteer State, the Spartans come back home for the first time on March 25 to take on Iowa Central.
March 20 — at Columbia State TBD
March 21 — at Volunteer State TBD
March 25 — Iowa Central 1 p.m.
March 26 — Iowa Lakes 12 p.m.
March 29 — at Northeast 2 p.m.
April 1 — at Ellsworth 1 p.m.
April 2 — at Iowa Central 12 p.m.
April 5 — NIACC 2 p.m.
April 8 — at Kirkwood 1 p.m.
April 9 — Ellsworth 12 p.m.
April 12 — at Iowa Lakes 2 p.m.
April 14 — at DMACC TBD
April 15 — at NIACC 2 p.m.
April 19 — Northeast 2 p.m.
April 20 — at North Central Missouri 2 p.m.
April 22 — Kirkwood 1 p.m.
April 23 — DMACC 12 p.m.
April 28-30 — Region XI tournament