No respect? No worries for softball Cards

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s Brianna Buss was named honorable-mention all-Big Eight Conference last year./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Perry Hibner is just fine in the Rodney Dangerfield role.

Hibner, Middleton’s third-year girls softball coach, knows that most pundits won’t pick his Cardinals to win the Big Eight Conference this spring.

But Hibner doesn’t mind the Dangerfield-like, “no respect” treatment.

“We will be in the mix,” Hibner insisted. “I don't think anyone will pick us to win the conference, but that's OK. Games aren't won on paper. I know we will improve and I feel like we can play with anyone in the Big Eight.”

There are a number of reasons for Hibner and the Cardinals to be so optimistic.

It starts with first baseman Jessica Parente, catcher Brianna Buss and third baseman Ashley Bindl, who all received all-conference honors last year.

Parente, a first-team all-Big Eight Conference player, was second on the team last year with a .446 batting average. Parente led the Cardinals with 20 RBI, was third with nine doubles and had one home run.

“Jessica is a fantastic hitter and she has been since the first day she arrived in our program,” Hibner said of Parente. “It's been great to see her improve in the field and become a leader.

“She is a great role model for our younger players. She is going to have another big season.”

Bindl batted .358 last year with one home run and 17 RBI (fourth on the team). Bindl also had an .886 fielding percentage and was named second-team all-Big Eight.

“Ashley is solid at the plate and in the field,” Hibner said. “She has fantastic speed, which allows us to do things on offense and defense that other teams can't.

“It's also been great to see her grow as a leader. She is taking that role very seriously. The other coaches in the Big Eight know how good she is, too.”

Buss batted .387 and was second on the team with a .481 on-base percentage. Buss caught 105 innings, had a .976 fielding percentage, threw out four runners attempting to steal and was named honorable mention all-Big Eight.

Buss could move to center field, though, where the Cardinals need to replace all three starters.

“Brianna did a great job for us behind the plate in 2017, but with so many new faces in the outfield we are thinking about moving her to center field to solidify things out there,” Hibner said. “She can pretty much play anywhere besides pitcher. She also knows how to get on base, which makes her an ideal player to have bat leadoff.”

Shortstop Rachael Roberts also returns. A year ago, Roberts batted .259 batting and had a .444 on-base percentage and a .904 fielding percentage.

Middleton also has several newcomers that will contribute immediately.

Freshman Olivia Hebert will play catcher or one of the middle infield positions.

“She’s a great athlete who knows the game,” Hibner said. “She can hit, field and throw. She has a bright future and it will be exciting to watch her play and keep improving throughout the season.”

Freshman Ellie Buza is Middleton’s No. 1 pitcher at this point.

“She has good velocity and movement on her pitches,” Hibner said. “The Big Eight isn't an easy conference to start in as a freshman, but we think Ellie can more than hold her own.”

Senior Sophie Schafer was a part-time starter last year who takes over at second base this season.

“She’s a strong fielder,” Hibner said of Schafer. “She has worked a lot on her hitting in the off-season so we are hoping to see a jump.”

Senior Hannah Edington, who played some catcher last year, will see a good deal of time on the mound this season. And freshman Charlotte Sax, who already throws in the low-50s, will start the year on varsity to provide Middleton with some pitching depth. 

“We won't be afraid to use multiple pitchers in every game if that's what it takes,” Hibner said. “Ellie is our No. 1 at this point and I think she will do a great job. The great thing is Ellie, Hannah and Charlotte have different strengths as pitchers, so using more than one in games may help keep batters off-balance.”

Middleton still needs to settle on its outfielders. Players in the mix include juniors Erin Fischer, Sam Williams and Rachel Kirch-Whitmore, sophomores Katelyn Graf and Lauren Vander Sanden and freshman Celia Hiorns.

Beth Young and Katie Sonday will also see time in the infield.

Sun Prairie is the Big Eight favorite, while Verona and Janesville Craig will both challenge.

As for Middleton, Hibner says, “Why not us?”

“We're younger than we have been, but I still think we have a nice mix of returning starters and talented newcomers,” Hibner said. “We should be very strong in the infield.

“We have some good athletes in the outfield, but I’m just not sure how those pieces will fit. We need our pitchers to hit their spots, move the ball around and keep hitters off-balance. I think we will be a pretty strong hitting team again this year.”

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