Belleville East has begun reaping the benefits of the Jr. Lancers softball program that started a few years back.
The Lancers bring back a nucleus of experienced, yet predominately young players from a squad that posted a 24-12 record last season.
We definitely have a good, strong group of core players returning this year, so I think that will be a positive for us, East coach Natalie Peters said. Since the Jr. Lancers program started a few years ago, weve been hoping that would give us a lot more players who were more advanced when they came into high school, and then we could work to take them to the next level.
I think that is working out really well for us.
The Lancers open the 2013 softball season against Triad on Thursday at home.
The Lancers bring back pitcher Alison Mitts, who posted a 22-10 record and a 1.05 ERA as a sophomore last season.
She was awesome for us, Peters said. She won 22 games as a sophomore, which speaks for itself.
Mitts underwent offseason surgery for the second straight year.
She had knee surgery about eight weeks ago, Peters said. Shes probably not 100 percent yet, but shes working really hard to get there. She brings a lot of experience back on the mound for us.
Last year, Mitts had to overcome shoulder surgery.
Peters said the Lancers underclass ranks are wellstocked with pitchers. They have junior Haley Wroten, sophomore Emily Green and four freshman hurlers.
In the pitching-catching workouts, we have 14 kids and there is not one senior, Peters said.
The Lancers have their top five hitters returning.
Leading the way is senior leadoff hitter Kayla Fields, who was instant offense last year.
Fields batted .443, scored 45 runs and stole 46 bases in 48 attempts.
The improvement that she has made from freshman year is just outstanding, Peters said. It says a lot about her and how coachable she is. She is just a complete package as far as offense goes. She can bunt, she can slap, she can hit. She really can do it all.
Peters said the Lancers coaching staff has stressed finding a way to produce runs when Fields doesnt get on base.
Thats something we talked about in our team meetings, Peters said. I think sometimes the girls are in the mindset that if Kayla doesnt score, then we are not going to score. We have to pick her up when she is not on base and still produce runs.
Fields will shift from left field to center field, where she should cover a lot of ground with her speed.
Junior shortstop Andrea Roberts provides some punch in No. 3 spot of the Lancers batting order.
Roberts batted .396 and topped the team in doubles (13) and RBIs (31) last season.
She is just a very consistent hitter, which you need behind a very good No. 1 and No. 2 that we have coming back, Peters said of Roberts.
Juniors Danielle Hendricks and Haley Gegelman are both experienced catchers.
Gegelman batted .348 with nine RBIs last season, while Hendricks batted.253 with 11 RBIs.
They have a lot of experience behind the plate, they are really confident in their abilities and it really sets a whole different tone if your catcher knows whats going and what shes doing, Peters said. It feeds throughout the whole team. Were excited about returning two catchers of that caliber.
Junior Amanda Campbell is a backup catcher.
Gegelman or Wroten, who hit .301 with 16 RBIs last season, will play first base.
Wroten is in the mix at second base along with sophomore Annie Eversman.
She had a great, great season on the jayvee level last year, and she came up toward the end of the season and had some huge pinch-hit appearances for us, Peters said of Eversman.
Senior third baseman Brittany Hodge, who batted.327 last season in the No. 2 spot in the Lancers batting order, also is back.
She is one of the best No. 2 hitters that I have ever seen, Peters said. Shes the type of player who understands her role. She is a great leader. The kids really look up to her.
The Lancers have a lot of options in right and left field with senior Katie Belleville, juniors Ryley Blomberg, Erinn Henry and Mackenzie Vollmer and freshman Tawnee Kramer.
Those other two spots are pretty much open for whoever is going to take them, Peters said. Who is going to play sound defense and contribute offensively?
Former Lancers standout Ashlee Heady has returned to coach at her alma mater after serving for several years as an assistant coach for the OFallon Panthers.
Contact reporter Steve
Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.