Softball Cards swinging for the top

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Rachel Everson and Middleton’s girls softball team hope to compete for a Big Eight Conference title this spring./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Perry Hibner looks up and down his Middleton softball roster and loves what he sees.

There are two experienced pitchers returning to anchor the Cardinals’ staff.

There are five returnees that earned some form of all-Big Eight Conference honors in 2016. And the newcomers are bursting with potential.

But Hibner fully understands that no matter how good things look now, nothing is promised over the next three months.

“On paper, we have a really good returning nucleus,” said Hibner, whose team begins its Big Eight Conference season April 3 against Sun Prairie. “But you don’t win games on paper.”

Middleton found that out the hard way a year ago.

The Cardinals went 16-9 overall and finished fourth in the Big Eight Conference at 11-7. Middleton defeated each of the three teams that finished above it in the league, but also lost to several teams that finished below it.

Had the Cardinals held serve against some of the teams in the bottom half of the conference, they might have been able to make a run at the league title.

“We beat everybody above us, so we had the ability,” Hibner said. “But we can’t lose to the teams in the bottom half of the conference. We just can’t do that if we want to make a run at the top.”

The Cardinals should have the firepower to make a run this spring.

Senior Makenzie Kopp will anchor the pitching staff and figures to be one of the top players in the conference.

A year ago, Kopp received first-team all-conference honors as a utility player. Kopp led the Cardinals with 30 RBI, was third on the team with a .409 batting average, and tied for second in home runs with two.

Kopp also went 11-4 on the mound, had a 3.41 ERA, struck out 66 batters, walked 32 and notched two saves. Therefore, she was also named honorable-mention all-conference as a pitcher.

“She always throws the ball hard,” Hibner said of Kopp. “But the big thing we’re looking for from her is more movement.

“She’s certainly made a step up. She’s worked hard on her game and you can see the improvement. She should have a great year.”

Junior Lauren Banke is a solid No. 2 pitcher who also will be the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.

Last season, Banke batted .366 with one home run, 16 RBI and 20 runs scored and was named honorable-mention all-conference. Banke also went 5-4 on the mound, had two saves and a 4.55 ERA.

“She’s an incredible athlete, by far our quickest player,” Hibner said of Banke. “The nice part is she shrinks the infield. And then she’s a nice complement to Kopp because they have very different styles.”

Junior Jessica Parente was a second-team all-league player as a catcher last year when she was second on the team with a .432 batting average. Parente also tied for second with two home runs, was third on the team in RBI (25) and second in OPS (1.152).

This year, Parente will move to first base.

“She’ll play that position in college,” Hibner said of Parente moving to first base. “She’s a really strong fielder and she’s looking really good at the plate, too. The ball just sounds different when it comes off her bat.”

Senior left fielder Hanna Fisher was a second-team all-conference player last year after batting .384 with two home runs and 21 RBI. Fisher was also third on the team in runs scored (26).

Fisher was primarily a designated player last year due to some arm issues. This year, Hibner is hoping Fisher will be his starting left fielder.

“She’s too good of an athlete and outfielder for us not to have her in the outfield,” Hibner said.

Senior center fielder Rachel Everson is hoping to make her final year a big one, too.

Everson, who will play collegiately at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, was a first-team all-conference player as a sophomore.

As a junior last season, Everson was named honorable-mention all-league after batting .386 and leading the Cardinals with 30 runs scored. Everson also finished second on the team with 10 doubles and had a team-high 12 walks.

While Everson’s numbers were impressive in 2016, Hibner believes she’ll be even better in 2017.

“She’s looking to have huge bounce back year,” Hibner said. “She set the bar so high after her first two years, that while last year was an average year for Rachel Everson, it’s a great year for most people. So I think she’s anxious to get back in it.”

The rest of Middleton’s lineup will feature newcomers ready to make their mark.

Junior Hannah Edington and junior Brianna Buss are vying for the starting catcher's job. Senior Katrina Anderson and junior Sophie Schafer are competing for the second base job. Sophomore Rachel Roberts is also in the mix at second and will likely play shortstop when Banke pitches.

Sophomore Ashley Bindl moves from second base last year to third base this season. Senior Sara Wettstein will likely play right field, while senior Jessi Nonn and junior Haley Franzen will be the top outfield reserves. Molly Trehey will also be in the mix at second and third base.

Middleton’s combination of returning talent and depth are certainly enviable. And while that guarantees the Cardinals nothing, it beats the alternative.

“At the end of the day, we have a talented, experienced roster,” Hibner said. “And I’d much rather have that than try to break in a whole new team.”

 

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