Central softball will lean on fundamentals to stay competitive this season

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The Central softball team includes (front, left to right) Tessa Sylvester, manager Peyton Finley, Chelsia Larson, Erin Dittmer, Ashlyn Scherf; (second row) Katelyn Scherf, Reese Berns, Kaitlyn Wiley, Fern Diersen; (third row) Layla Embretson, Ayden Schutte, Tori Sylvester, Zoey Hyde, Mackayla Vlazny; (back) coach Mark Wiley, assistant coach Hannah Erickson, Gracie Cummer, Brandi Herman and Oakley Armstrong.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“As the season is getting started, our expectations are to be competitive in every game.”


That’s how Central softball coach Mark Wiley summed up the team’s goals for this season. 


According to Wiley, this competitiveness starts with being effective and consistent on the mound and playing good defense in support of the pitching staff. He deemed both as “essential” to the team’s success. 


When it comes to pitching, it’s easy to understand why such a heavy burden falls on that aspect of the game. The staff had an ERA over 7.00 last season, walked 67 batters, hit 28 more and gave up 142 earned runs. 


The pitching staff will continue to be led by senior Chelsia Larson, who started 16 games last season, as well as junior Katelyn Scherf, who started eight. Wiley asserted that both pitchers spent time in the offseason improving, working on getting ahead in counts and perfecting off-speed pitches. Getting ahead in counts, a struggle last season, should cut down on the ERA. Improved off-speed pitches should keep the opposition off-balance and guessing a little more at the plate, leading to fewer walks and more strikeouts.


The other issue that plagued the Warriors last season was errors. The team committed 55 of them, leading to opposing teams scoring 37 runs—equaling 1.4 runs per game allowed simply because of defensive errors. 


Defensive errors also led to higher pitch counts, more at bats for other teams, more base runners and increased scoring opportunities. This is notable because the Warrior offense had a batting average above .300, but was outscored by 36 runs, or basically the amount given up through errors. They also lost two games by one run and gave up five or more runs in a single inning 11 times. 


In an effort to minimize these struggles, Wiley mentioned a return to the fundamentals, which he believes are the “key to limiting errors.” 


“Every single day we have practice, we are working on footwork in the infield and outfield as well as throwing mechanics to hit cuts from the outfield and throwing across the diamond to first base,” Wiley added.


Addressing the other concern associated with the errors: being outscored despite the quality numbers on offense, Wiley chalked some of that up to early season jitters, the implementation of a new system and a team still trying to find it’s identity. 


“I feel the kids picked up the defensive system we were using about mid-June, and we became more efficient in the field as a result. We look to continue this trend as we start the 2022 season,” Wiley said. 


This trend will need to be continued without Maddy Wille, Madison Sylvester and offensive leader Abby Cummer, but Wiley believes this year’s seniors, a group that includes Larson, Kaitlyn Wiley and Fern Diersen, have the leadership, experience and skill to overcome those losses and keep the momentum moving forward. 


All three players have been on a mission to improve their batting averages over last season, and early season practices have focused on hitting exclusively for all players. 


The hole will also be filled by other players being asked to do more, like Ashlyn Scherf and Mackayla Vlazny, who have “really stepped it up” in practice, showing “great growth from a season ago,” Wiley said.


“We lost three very good seniors. We also have had some turnover with other leaders not returning to play softball this season. Our top four hitters from a season ago will not be stepping in the box. This being said, we do have six players that return with varsity experience and look to build on our improvements from a season ago,” Wiley said. 


The loss of players is also assuaged by the presence of Diersen and Gracie Cummer, the “two generals behind the plate,” and vocal leaders who will be “relied on to help everyone be more comfortable in their defensive positions,” noted Wiley.


Then there is the slew of freshman who joined the team that will be expected to “help fill the void.” That list includes Tori and Tessa Sylvester, Reese Berns and Brandi Herman. Of that group, Tori Sylvester saw time running the bases last season. 


Central also has four eighth graders who Wiley expects to see time running the bases, pinch hitting or playing the field at some point. 


While the lost players have been replaced, a concern still exists as to whether or not the Warriors can produce on par with those who exited or did not return. Wiley believes the pieces are in place to be successful, though.


“We are capable of doing things very well in softball if we pay attention to the fine details,” he said.

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