By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
Softball Coach Denise Smith sees a lot of positives as she looks back on the 2014 varsity season at Chase County Schools.
At 5-27, the team didn’t finish with the record they had last year (12-15) or a district runner-up showing, but the coach said her Chase County team improved over its 32-game season.
She’s expecting the team will benefit from that growth next year when a lot of young players with varsity experience will return.
With seven sophomore starters this year and a good freshman catcher who played occasionally, Smith won’t have to face the big rebuilding year she did this season.
At the start of the 2014 season, she had to replace all but one of the six infielders. Senior Emma Bauerle was the only returner back who played the same position.
Others were moved to different positions, and three players moved to softball this season from a different sport the year before.
All of that resulted in a year of growth and rebuilding, but that also means eight sophomores and five freshmen who Smith hopes return next season.
“We had good improvement. They will get more confident” as they move into next season, Smith said.
In 2014, the team wasn’t hampered by poor weather like the year before when they were unable to play several contests due to rain and snow. Consequently, there were also more JV games.
There were no season-ending injuries among varsity starters, either, and Smith said she enjoyed having a bigger roster of players this season.
One downside is another loss of six seniors, which will be hard to replace next year, she said.
Games next summer will be important, but with no senior softball leagues in this area, it means traveling to tournaments to get the needed experience before fall ball starts, she said.
They will be returning to the UNL softball team camp in July 2015. She’s hoping she has the commitment from players to play in several tournaments, as well.
Four hit .250 or better
Four varsity players hit .250 or better during the season, led by sophomore Destiny Reinke, who finished with a .284 average. That came on 21 hits in 74 at-bats.
Not far behind at .279 was senior Emma Bauerle. Chase County’s two pitchers rounded out the top four, with Katelyn Wheeler at .258 and Josie Peterson at .256.
Also above the .200 mark were Megan Engbrecht, Andrea Page and Mikaela O’Brien.
Hitting leader was Wheeler with 23 hits, while Peterson was close behind with 22. Reinke led the team in extra-base hits, with three doubles and four triples this season.
Bauerle walked the most, 15, and also scored the most runs for the team at 22.
Defensively among the starters, Wheeler led with a .799 fielding percentage with shortstop Reinke close behind at .895.
The softball team chose its honorary team captains following the district tournament this month. Their fellow teammates chose seniors Makenna Wallin, Jessica Hartman and Emma Mollendor.
Coach Smith said each player on the team was asked to vote for members of the team who show leadership, stay positive and pep up their fellow players no matter how the game is going.
It has more to do with character than softball statistics, Smith said.
Wallin was a first-year player on the team in 2014 and finished the season as varsity starter in left field.
Mollendor was the team’s varsity designated hitter (DH), while Hartman played outfield and pitched in some JV games.