Softball Cards hope for bounceback season

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Olivia Hebert (right) and Middleton's girls softball team have high hopes this spring./File photo

The 2018 season certainly wasn’t the norm.

And Middleton girls softball coach Perry Hibner doesn’t believe it will become the new norm.

The Cardinals finished 9-14 overall and seventh in the Big Eight Conference at 8-10. But Middleton brings back an experienced, talent-laden group that Hibner believes can challenge for a top-three spot in one of the state’s elite conference.

“We certainly weren't happy with our record last year,” said Hibner, whose team opens its season in Florida next week. “We lost a lot of close games. We were younger than we have been in past years, but we don't make excuses. The girls expect more of themselves and the coaching staff does as well."

Four of Middleton’s losses were by three runs, or less, last year. Now, Hibner is hoping the combination of a veteran group and some gifted newcomers helps the Cardinals become one of the league’s most improved teams.

“I expect us to be a lot better, but our focus right now is on getting better each day,” Hibner said. “If we do things the right way, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”

Middleton’s top returnee is senior third baseman Ashley Bindl, who Hibner calls a “five tool” player.

Bindl, a two-time second-team all-Big Eight Conference player, tied for team lead with three home runs last year and led the Cardinals with 18 runs scored. Bindl, a four-year varsity player, also batted .351, had 12 RBIs and had a .935 fielding percentage last year.

“She was clearly one of the top players in the Big Eight last year,” Hibner said. “She leads by example, but has also done a great job of mentoring her younger teammates. She is the engine that makes our team go.”

Senior shortstop Rachael Roberts batted .304 last year with one home run, 13 RBIs and had a team-high 11 walks. Roberts, a three-year varsity player, also had a .912 fielding percentage.

“Rachael had an outstanding volleyball season and we are looking for even bigger things from her in softball,” Hibner said. “She is very talented. She wants to be perfect at everything and we remind her that her best is more than good enough. If she can more consistently take the outside pitch the other way, she will make life miserable for opposing pitchers.”

Sophomore Olivia Hebert was a second-team All-Big Eight selection last year as a utility player and received honorable mention recognition at catcher. Hebert batted .338 with three home runs and 12 RBIs and had just four errors behind the plate in nearly 100 total chances.

“Olivia is immensely talented,” Hibner said. “She has a cannon for an arm and is very quick. She could play anywhere in the field. She has a strong bat and makes pitchers pay for their mistakes. She did a great job as a freshman and we are expecting even more from her this year.”

Middleton’s other returning starters include outfielder/designated player Sam Williams, who hit .286 with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs last year.

C.C. Hiorns played left field last year, but will move to center this season. A year ago, Hiorns batted .270 and had eight walks.

“She has quick reactions and is extremely fast,” Hibner said of Hiorns. “She has a very good arm.”

Katelyn Graf played right field last year and batted .222 with one home run. This year, she could move to left field.

The Cardinals’ biggest question marks come from their pitching staff. But Hibner believes there will be answers.

Ellie Buza had a 2.86 ERA last season, went 4-6 overall and struck out 33 batters in 51.1 innings. Buza missed all, or part, of 12 games with a back injury, but appears ready to roll now.

“Ellie has gained a year of experience and has a better idea of what it takes to get batters out at the varsity level,” Hibner said. “She needs to focus on getting ahead in the count more often.”

Senior Brynn Thayer missed last season, but has terrific control and good movement on her pitches. Thayer doesn’t throw hard, but her location is outstanding.

“It's great to have Brynn back,” Hibner said. “She had a fantastic summer. She has been a great leader to our younger players during open gyms and I can't wait to see her take the mound.”

And freshman Bailey Flock throws between 56-58 miler per hour and has tremendous upside.

“If she can spot her pitches, she can really help us on the mound,” Hibner said. “She has real potential as a slap hitter, which we haven't had in a while.”

Middleton also has a handful of positional newcomers it expects to contribute.

Senior second baseman Beth Young played in a handful of games last year and now seems ready for a far greater role. Junior Emily Ross and junior Sydney Helt can both play second base or outfield.

Junior Maddie Joers can play catcher, third base or outfield, while junior Lauren Vander Sanden can play first base or outfield. And freshman Jenna Redders could make some immediate noise at the plate.

“She has a very good bat,” Hibner said of Redders. “She can hit for power to all fields. The speed of the varsity game doesn't intimidate her. We’re just trying to figure out the best position for her in the field.”

Senior Lauren Horst, who’s trying to come back from ACL injuries to both knees, is also in the outfield mix.

Middleton lost two-time first-team All-Big Eight catcher, first baseman and utility player Jessica Parente to graduation. Parente is now playing at Belmont College (Tenn).

Overall, though, Hibner believes this group has the necessary talent and depth to make some noise.

Sun Prairie, the defending WIAA Division 1 state champs, figures to be outstanding again. Verona and Beloit Memorial should also be extremely strong, while Janesville Craig, Janesville Parker, Madison Memorial and Middleton were all separated by three games in the middle of the league’s standings last year.

“What I have really noticed is how much better the pitching was last year,” Hibner said of the Big Eight. “More than half of the teams had someone who could throw in the mid-to-high 50s. Sun Prairie's Maddie Gardner throws in the 60s and Verona's Meghan Anderson isn't far behind that.”

Middleton won't have a player that throws like that. But the Cardinals will have several gifted — and hungry — players that Hibner believes could do some big things this spring.

“Can we contend? Certainly, but we will need to be solid in the field and do a better job of hitting,” Hibner said. “We also have to cut down on our strikeouts. We averaged more than six a game and had 50-plus more than we had in either of my first two seasons.

“We also probably aren't going to strike out 10-12 batters a game. There are lots of ways to win games, and we just have to find the formula that works for us.”

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