Softball Preview: A MIX OF OLD AND NEW
By BRANDON HURLEY
A wave of impact newcomers could provide the extra boost the Greene County softball team is in search of as the new softball season gets underway.
The Rams open the year with their sights set on reversing a summer full of hardships, a 2017 campaign which saw them capture just 10 wins. Greene County only lost two key players from last season’s squad and could very easily build its bevy of returning veterans. Despite the rough season a year ago, Greene County head coach Tom Kennedy drew up several lessons for this year’s squad.
“It just made us all want to work a little harder because we don’t want to have that happen again,” the coach said. “They’ve been practicing really hard early in the year. That’s something we learned (last year).”
Megan Carey returns as the Rams’ lead-off, slap-stick hitter for the third straight year and remains as one of the league’s top offensive weapons. The junior led the team in batting with a .449 average (third in the Heart of Iowa Conference) last summer while she scored 28 times. Unfortunately, Greene County will have to replace two of their top run producers as departed senior Hannah Promes (.364/24 RBI) and Megan Durbin (.304/16 RBI) combined for 40 runs batted in. Durbin is taking the summer off to focus on training for her track career at Iowa state. No other Ram outside of the aforementioned trio batted above .270 last summer, though nearly the entire order returns. That experience should bode well for the relatively young, but experienced Greene County roster.
“We will develop into a better hitting team as the year goes on. We will be pretty solid throughout the order,” Kennedy said. “We should be pretty good defensively, and those are areas that we can get better at, too.”
Promes was also the Rams top hurler in the circle, tossing 104 innings while securing five wins in 17 starts. Jenna Beyers – who is batting .600 four games into the 2018 season – steps in as Promes’ replacement, getting 11 starts as a sophomore, recording a 7.35 ERA in 60 innings. Defense, along with an improved consistency at the plate, is where Kennedy feels the Rams can succeed.
“There are going to be nights where we make some mistakes, we are young. But we we have to get more consistent with our fielding and more consistent with our hitting,” Kennedy said. “If our defense is better and our hitting is better, that helps (our) pitching because they can attack more and don’t have to be so fine.
They all kind of work together and so we’re going to have to improve all facets of the game. Being young, we need to improve in all areas and that’s what we’ll try to work on.”
Eighth-grader Carmyn Paup impressed in her Greene County debut last week, tallying a pair of hits and three runs-batted in during the Rams’ 12-10 win over Saydel. Freshman Danielle Hoyle also knocked in a pair of runs in the opener thanks to two hits.
“Our newcomers are doing really well, maybe even a little better than I expected. We’re getting good production out of them,” Kennedy said. “We are going expect a lot from our young kids and even our veterans.
Carmyn Paup and Danielle Hoyle have been really strong to start the year, but if we’re going to be a good team, it’s going to come down to our (batters) hitting (well) throughout the order.”
The Rams scored 144 runs last season, an average of 4.8 runs per game, which certainly is a good jumping off point. They’ve already scored 18 runs in four games, including 12 runs in the season-opener. Following their victory in Des Moines, the Rams dropped their next three and sat at 2-6 on the season .
Kennedy feels a strong leadership group will be vital in a resurgence.
“We’re going to have (need) contributions from our seniors and juniors and sophomores and everybody,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to be a real team effort.”
Despite the youthful exuberance of the rookies, it’s those handful of veterans – Carey, Beyers, Sam Hardaway and Laurin Lyons – that will mean the difference between a turnaround or consecutive losing seasons. Since the Rams’ back-to-back third place state finishes in 2014 and 2015, Greene County has won just 26 games and is eight games under .500.
“We don’t have you know a lot of superstars but we’ll have Megan Carey at top the order and Jenna Byers, I think, is going to have a big year,” Kennedy said. “Samantha Hardaway is going to have a good year. if we can get them to keep contributing, we should have a good year.”
HOIC outlook: Offense will be in full force this summer in the Heart of Iowa Conference as the league’s top three pitchers either graduated or are no longer in the HOIC. South Hamilton’s Taylor Volkmann returns as the top hurler, having struck out 140 batters in 113 innings last year, while boasting a 2.29 ERA. Roland-Story’s Sydney Mathis will also be tough in the circle, striking out 124 batters in 152 innings to go with a 2.71 ERA.
Baxter won the Heart of Iowa Conference going away last year with a 14-1 record, thanks to a 1.30 team ERA and 131 strikeouts in 97 innings, but departed following the final games in July. South Hamilton returns as the top pitching staff now that Baxter has exited the conference, holding down a 2.36 ERA with 184 strikeouts in 178 innings last summer.
Preseason Class 3A No. 7 North Polk (11-4) led the league in batting with 114 runs scored and 18 home runs (in conference games). Roland-Story cracked the preseason rankings at No. 14. The Norse were 7-8 in league play last summer, scoring 60 runs to go with a team batting average of .249. They boasted a team ERA of 3.40, striking out just 66 batters. They do return seven of their top eight hitters as well as their top two pitchers (Sydney Mathis and Hailey Lourw).
Nevada’s Grace Francis returns as one of the league’s top hitters, sporting a .463 average a year ago to go with 10 doubles.
North Polk junior Carolyn Steffen knocked in a league-best six home runs to go with 29 RBI and a .380 average.
Class 3A outlook: Defending 3A champion Davenport Assumption (44-1) was head and shoulders above the state last year and comes in as 3A’s preseason No. 1. Assumption compiled 380 runs and a team batting average of .394 and 21 home runs. They also rolled out the best pitching staff in Iowa, boasting a sparkling 0.47 ERA and a mind-numbing 445 strikeouts in 282 innings pitched.
Then Crestwood freshman Laken Lienhard tallied a sparkling .579 average to go with 14 home runs and 46 RBI in her rookie campaign. Assumption junior Hannah Kelley was the state’s top pitcher going 19-1 with a 0.41 ERA and 108 strikeouts. Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley’s Kaitlyn Van Der Zwaag returns as the top strikeout pitcher, mowing down 3-7 batters a year ago.
Class 3A regional tournament play begins July 3 while the 2018 girls state softball tournament is slated for July 16-20 at Rogers Park in Fort Dodge.