The summer of 2017 will be one where growth for the Creston softball team is a necessity.
Coach Mike McCabe’s squads are always aiming to peak toward the end of the season, but the Panthers are sure to be thrown into adverse situations early on.
Six of Creston’s more accomplished seniors in the program’s history are gone from a team that has finished third and seventh at state over the last two years. The team finished 25-13 overall and 16-4 in the Hawkeye 10 in 2016, a game behind Lewis Central to take second place.
More than a few Panthers who played only limited varsity time a year ago, or even just junior varsity, will be expected to jump onto the field and contribute immediately.
That’s even sooner than it sounds, with game one slated for Monday at Southwest Valley and conference games underway a day later against a Glenwood team that the Panthers defeated for the chance to go to state a year ago.
“It’s a challenge this year certainly as far as some kids needing to step into their first main varsity action,” McCabe said. “I think we’ve got a group that’s up to it. They’re working hard so far. Starting to clear the air on some things as far as positions and personnel.”
The Panthers welcome back a handful of varsity letterwinners, namely infielder and second-team all-conference performer Lexie Little and pitcher Cali Foglesong.
Little batted .375 a year ago, had 12 doubles, three triples and 28 RBIs.
McCabe is waiting too see a number of things from Little as a senior leader.
“We’re obviously expecting big things from Lexie play-wise, leadership wise,” McCabe said.
Little has several goals in mind. Hit better than .400, cut down on her errors from 17 a year ago while playing on the left side of the infield and finally be named first-team all-Hawkeye 10 and of course, make a trip back to state.
“Overall I just want to have a successful year,” Little said. “I know we lost a big group of seniors which yeah, it might hurt, but we have a lot of talent coming up so I’m not too worried. I’m excited to get the season started.”
Foglesong pitched 105 and 2/3 innings while posting an 11-7 record, striking out 56 and registering a 2.91 E.R.A.
Foglesong will be the main option in the circle, while options like freshman Kylee LaMasters could step in to fill the number two role. Others like Saige Rice or even several different freshmen could step into the circle.
“She was kind of our 1A last year and she’s gained a little bit of endurance. A little bit of strength,” McCabe said.
Foglesong’s main battery mate is likely to be Chloe Hagle, who returns a year after seeing her role on the team become of much more importance as the every day catcher.
Less experienced varsity players like Cayla Maitlen, Brielle Baker, Kiersten Latham and Rice will step into roles of importance immediately.
With fewer big boppers and more speed, the Panthers may find themselves employing some small ball, bunting and slapping for hits from time to time.
Baker, Latham and Sara Keeler are all players who have worked on slapping the ball in practice.
Seniors Mattie Wheeler and Morgan Shawler have bided their time over the years in limited varsity action, and will have the chance to shine in their last year on the team.
Senior Cammy Rutherford is back out for the sport for the first time since freshman year after dealing with knee injuries the last two years.
The Panthers dropped down to 3A this season from 4A, which means teams like Winterset, Dallas Center-Grimes and ADM won’t be lingering come postseason play.
Expectations remain high regardless of the circumstances, something that McCabe says is a testament to the athletes who have come through the program in recent years that have maintained high standards and kept the level of play high.
The Panthers are still working through uncertain circumstances with numerous athletes still finishing up spring soccer and track and field.
“We didn’t change any of our goals. They’re the same,” McCabe said. “We’re trying to compete for a conference championship. We’re going to be trying to play our best ball by July. We want to go to state a third straight time.”
Teri Keeler returns as the junior varsity coach of a squad with a decent amount of players. New freshman coach Amber Brown, a Carlisle grad, has been welcomed into the fold. Around 20 players will make up the freshman and junior varsity rosters.
May 22 — at Southwest Valley, 7:30 p.m.; May 23 — Glenwood 7:30 p.m.; May 25 — at Lewis Central, 5:30 p.m.; May 30 — at Clarinda, 7:30 p.m.; June 1 — at Harlan 5:30 p.m.; June 3 — tournament at Atlantic, 8 a.m.; June 5 — Shenandoah, 7:30 p.m.; June 8 — Kuemper Catholic, 5:30 p.m.; June 9-10 — home tournament, TBD; June 12 — at Red Oak, 7:30 p.m.; June 15 — Denison-Schleswig, 5:30 p.m.; June 17 — at Oskaloosa tournament, 11 a.m.; June 19 — Clarinda, 7:30 p.m.; June 20 — at Shenandoah, 7:30 p.m.; June 22 — at St. Albert, 5:30 p.m.; June 24 — at Cedar Rapids tournament, TBD; June 27 — Red Oak, 7:30 p.m.; June 29 — Atlantic, 5:30 p.m.; July 5 — Regional quartefinals, TBA; July 7 — Regional semifinals, TBA; July 10 — Regional final.