Hillsboro High softball coach Stephanie Sinclair had a wealth of riches last year with a core group of six talented, experienced seniors who drove a state championship run that came up just short.
This year, it’s back to the drawing board.
“We graduated six and we return four seniors this year, so yeah, we’ve got a lot of holes to fill,” Sinclair said. “This year will be kind of a test for us. I’m feeling a lot better about those holes now than I did two or three weeks ago.”
Youth and inexperience will be present on the mound, where sophomore Taylor Helmer has the edge for seeing the most playing time. Sophomore Sarah Jost is coming on, Sinclair said, but untested senior Shannon Heiser has emerged as the primary backup for Helmer.
“Shannon doesn’t have a lot of experience at all, but she would mess around pitching in warmups last year, and I saw she had some skill there,” Sinclair said.
Sam Moss will handle catching duties.
“She’s caught some through the summers,” Sinclair said. “I feel pretty confident with her. I think she can step in there, but there will still be learning that happens.”
Since the pitching staff has less variety in the types of pitches they can throw compared to last year’s hurlers, it should be easier for Moss to manage games, Sinclair said. Trinity Mohm will be the backup.
The infield will consist of Kalyn Moss at first, Mohm or Helmer at second, depending on who’s pitching, Heiser at shortstop, backed up by Sam Moss, and Mesa Merrill at third.
Center fielder Sarah Jost will be flanked by Cheyenne Bernhardt in left and Erika Bichet in right. Ellie Wiesbrecht could push for playing time in the outfield as well.
“Sarah is our leader out there,” Sinclair said. “We have some options in the outfield. We don’t have as many options in the infield, but those girls can play several positions.”
A piece of the puzzle that remains unsettled is how and where the starters will contribute offensively.
“We’ve done a lot of charting trying to figure out where our strengths are, and we’re still learning our team,” Sinclair said. “We’ll work on all aspects, whether we’re trying to push a runner home going to right field or trying to lay down a bunt.”
The winning tradition established under Sinclair’s leadership of the program is beneficial in motivating players to practice hard and get better, she said.
“Coming from a winning program, everybody still wants to win,” Sinclair said. “I can see it even in the freshmen and sophomores, that they’re getting more and more driven. We have our ups and downs at practices, and I have mine as a coach, but they know I want to win as much as I do.”
Not that Sinclair minds having to work a bit harder to get players to where she wants them to be.
“It’s a different kind of fun to work with kids that don’t have as much experience right now, developing them and getting them to understand the game better, and making them better people for life,” Sinclair said.