Girls softball team had high hopes for 2020

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Olivia Hebert and Middleton’s girls softball team had high hopes this season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Editor’s Note: The WIAA recently canceled spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Times-Tribune, we’d like to give recognition to the athletes and coaches who had their seasons stopped prematurely.

So over the next few weeks, we’ll run a series of stories on the teams that didn’t get a chance to perform in 2020.

 

This was not how Brittany Carl envisioned her first season as Middleton’s softball coach would go.

Not even close.

Carl, a former collegiate standout at Seton Hall, was named the Cardinals’ new head coach last summer. In the time since, she worked tirelessly to get a Middleton ready to shine in 2020.

Of course, Carl and the Cardinals never received that chance.

The WIAA voted, 10-1, to cancel all spring sports on April 21 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think I speak for the entire Middleton program when I say, had we been able to play the 2020 season, it would have been a great year to make a statement,” Carl said. “Led by a strong and determined senior class, we had all the right ingredients — good chemistry, sound leadership, shared passion, and a deep talent pool.

“The mindset was there. This team really, really wanted to get out there and prove that Middleton softball isn’t content in the middle. We want to be at the top. Now, that mission has been put on hold until 2021. A dream deferred.”

Middleton went 13-12 overall last season and was 9-9 in the Big Eight Conference. But the Cardinals seemed poised to take a major step forward.

Junior catcher Olivia Hebert and junior center fielder CC Hiorns were both first-team all-Big Eight Conference selections in 2019.

Hebert led the Cardinals in RBIs (34) and doubles (10) a year ago. Hebert was also second among Middleton’s starters in batting average (.359), slugging percentage (.522) and steals (11), and was fourth in runs scored (18).

In 96 plate appearances, Hebert struck out just six times. She also threw out three runners trying to steal and had a fielding percentage of .965 on 143 total chances.

“With Olivia Hebert anchoring us both behind the dish and at the plate, we were able to draw up some scary, albeit hypothetical, lineups,” Carl said. “Offensively, Olivia has an almost violent swing, and would have no doubt been a key power source for us in 2020. An experienced catcher with excellent agility and an absolute cannon for an arm, we really would have leaned on her as our defensive commander-in-chief this season.”

Hiorns led Middleton’s starters in batting average (.375), was second in on-base percentage (.438) and was third in both runs (19) and walks (nine). Hiorns also had just one error in 34 total chances.

“With her sneaky speed, craftiness, and versatility from the left side of the plate, CC Hiorns wreaked havoc on defenses in 2019,” Carl said. “We expect she would have resumed those duties this year, as well as continuing to not only patrol, but command our outfield.”

Junior Ellie Buza and sophomore Bailey Flock were expected to anchor the pitching staff. Both were significant contributors a year ago, and Carl believed each player was poised to take a jump in 2020.

“We returned a couple of aces in the circle,” Carl said.

Despite graduating the entire starting infield from a year ago, Carl was optimistic that there was enough talent and depth among those positions.

Sophomore Jenna Redders played right field a year ago, but was set to move to shortstop and bat leadoff.

“Given her unwavering consistency and undeniable knack for getting on base, Jenna Redders was a mainstay at leadoff in 2019,” Carl said. “While she undoubtedly would have returned to the top of the order this season, we also saw her using her excellent range, strong arm, and program knowledge to lead our defense from shortstop in 2020.”

Junior Abby Zumbrunnen, a former catcher, was set to take over the third base job and bat near the top of the order.

“With her unique combination of speed, stealth, and power, Abby Zumbrunnen would have been another top-of-the-order threat for us this season,” Carl said. “Another natural athlete, Abby split time between a variety of positions in 2019. As a former catcher, though, with cat-like reflexes and sure hands, we imagined she would have found a home at third base.”

Seniors Sydney Helt and Emily Ross were set to handle second base duties. And seniors Lauren Vander Sanden and Val Niesen were in the mix at first base.

Senior Katelyn Graf was the frontrunner to start in left field, while senior Mattie Joers was the favorite to win the right field job.

“Katelyn Graf would add some veteran know-how on defense, as well as an offensive spark to the middle of our lineup,” Carl said. “Mattie Joers has the distinct ability to play just about anywhere on the diamond, given her swift feet and incredibly strong arm.”

Middleton’s last conference championship came in 2015. And while many believed the 2020 Cardinals would finish in the middle of the pack, internally they felt a special year was coming.

“All in all, we expected to be extremely competitive,” Carl said. We had veteran arms in the circle and an incredibly smart and savvy defense to back them up. It would have been tough to push runs across against us. We would have undoubtedly made teams work for it. On the offensive side, we had some serious speed to play with. That opens up a whole realm of possibilities from an offensive strategy perspective.

“Speaking in hypotheticals, and knowing all that could have been this season, it feels like such an opportunity lost. This senior class provided our program with so much experience, knowledge, and passion. The finality of the situation now really puts it in perspective. We all wish we could’ve played just one more game, not only with our seniors, but for them. They deserve all the thanks and recognition in the world for their four-year commitment to this program.”

 

Varsity Returners from 2019

Kateyln Graf (Sr., OF)

Sydney Helt (Sr., 2B)

Mattie Joers (Sr., UT)

Val Niesen (Sr., 1B)*

Emily Ross (Sr., UT)

Lauren Vander Sanden (Sr., 1B)

Ellie Buza (Jr., P)

Olivia Hebert (Jr., C)

CC Hiorns (Jr., CF)

Abby Zumbrunnen (Jr., SS/3B)

Bailey Flock (So., P)

Jenna Redders (So., SS)

*not a returner, but a senior

 

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