With just one senior on the team, Hillsboro softball will pin its hopes on underclassmen to improve upon last season’s 6-16 finish, and coach Stephanie Sinclair sees potential that they’ll come through.
“Our middle infield looks pretty strong,” she said. “We’re still working on our corners and outfield. In some ways, we’re looking better than last year.”
Senior Mesa Merrill is likely to be one of those middle infielders. Sinclair said she’s had less opportunity to evaluate Merrill because she was tied up with the end of basketball season, but has high expectations.
“This is going to be one of her opportunities to have a chance to lead, and I’m hopeful she embraces that like I think she can,” Sinclair said.
Merrill and junior Samantha Moss are working at the middle infield positions behind junior pitcher Taylor Helmer.
“Sam’s really good with the quicker infield positions,” Sinclair said.”
Ellie Weisbeck’s development at first base could solidify the Trojans’ defense.
“If she can handle that well, we’ll have a lot more strength in our infield,” Sinclair said. “I’m banking on Ellie to embrace that position and play it well, and she’s been working really hard at that. We have some ways we can switch our girls around; they’re pretty versatile.”
Helmer steps into the season throwing more pitches and being more active, Sinclair said, and she’ll be throwing to a new catcher.
“Cheyenne Bernhardt wanted to do a conversion last summer, so she worked on it, and we’re going to give her a chance,” she said.
Sophomore Bernhardt may also see some time on the mound.
The outfield will be anchored by junior Sarah Jost, an all-league second team selection last year who has come back strong and provides team leadership, Sinclair said.
Several sophomores and freshman also are competing for spots in the starting rotation, Sinclair said.
Questions remain about how the Trojans will produce runs.
“We’ve had good days and bad days out there, so it’s kind of hard to predict right now,” Sinclair said. “We’re not as experienced at batting, but we have some people with some good potential. I think we’ll have a little bit of power, but we’re going to have to be smart. We can’t make base-running mistakes.”
A young team with promise is keeping Sinclair and assistant coach Jill Hein busy assessing and developing talent.
“It takes every bit of what both of us have out there,” Sinclair said. “I’m glad I have her out there for all the experience she has. She’s not afraid to say if she thinks differently; I like that about Jill.”
Hillsboro opens the season on the road Tuesday with a doubleheader at Nickerson.