Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
When the Helias softball team lost 17 of its 24 games last year, it did so with five sophomores and a freshman in starting roles. Coach Dan Campbell hopes 2013’s growing pains will contribute to 2014’s successes.
“We showed our inexperience (last season), but to the girls’ credit, they hung in there,” he said. “I think this year they’re going to be the better for it.”
One of the places inexperience showed most was on defense, which Helias has focused on as it prepares for its first game today at Battle.
“I was looking at the stats last year, and I think we had over 57 errors, something like that last year,” Campbell said, “and you’re not going to win too many games when you’re kicking it around like that.”
An inability to close out games was another difficulty for the Lady Crusaders last season.
“We lost several games in the late innings, sixth and seventh innings, that I felt like we should’ve won,” Campbell said. “I guess you could look back to the inexperience, but I take a lot of blame for that, too. I think we should’ve won some of those games, and we just didn’t get it done.”
One thing in the Lady Crusaders’ favor is their move from Class 4 to Class 3, a shift Campbell wasn’t sure was coming.
“We didn’t know. Quite honestly, it was 50-50. We didn’t make it by many students, but I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve been in the higher Class 4 since maybe ’02, so obviously we’ll take it.
“I still think we’re where we need to be in Class 3, but we can only do what the state tells us to do. That’s where we’ll play.”
Playing in a new class could help the Lady Crusaders reach their goals as they try to bounce back from last season.
“Instead of battling with Rock Bridge, Hickman and J.C., we’ll be down with some of the smaller schools, but it’s still not going to be easy,” Campbell said. “You’ve still got to play good softball to win a district, so that’s always the goal, to win a district championship and hopefully a state championship.”
Many of Helias’ sophomore starters from last season will factor largely into Helias’ bid for success this year as juniors. One is Lauren Morrow, who moves from second base to shortstop because of her superior defensive range. Catcher Grace Dittmer also figures to play a big role.
Center fielder Julie Harris will lead off for the Lady Crusaders.
“She’s going to hopefully set the table for us,” Campbell said, “and hopefully our 2, 3 and 4 (hitters) can get her in.”
Though Helias was a youth-laden team in 2013, it still lost some key players to graduation — most notably third baseman Paige Bange, who now plays softball at Missouri.
“We’re going to have to fill her shoes, and that’s not going to be any one person,” Campbell said. “That’s going to have to be a team effort to generate the hits and RBI that she did last year.”
Campbell said it’s important for Helias to get off to a strong start. Last year, the team began to press in response to its sluggish start, he said.
The Lady Crusaders will get a chance to do that with a heavy workload in the first week. After tonight’s game at Battle, Helias hosts Rolla on Thursday and plays in Battle’s inaugural softball tournament Friday and Saturday, which should result in six or seven first-week games.
Helias split with Battle last year, winning 7-6 in the first matchup before losing 9-3 in the district tournament.
“We’re going to know a lot by the end of this week, kind of where we’re standing,” Campbell said, “and the lineup’s not set in stone by any means.
“Like I said, after this week, we should have a lot more answers.”