BELLEVILLE — Collecting hits wasn't a problem for the Althoff Crusaders last season.
Collecting hits with runners in scoring position was a problem.
"We hit the ball well last year; we just had trouble scoring," Althoff coach Mike Dori said. "I think this year that shouldn't be a problem. I think maturity had a lot to do with it. We had a lot of sophomores last year playing and we had some juniors who were just starting to feel their way."
The Crusaders had seven players hit over .275 last season, yet they were shut out nine times. They scored two or fewer runs in 15 of their 31 games.
"We'd get runners on, and we just couldn't move them around," Dori said. "That was frustrating last year. The experience they got last year is going to pay off this year."
The Crusaders open the 2013 season against Red Bud on Wednesday at home.
"I'm pretty comfortable with this group," said Dori, heading into hisseason. "It's going to be fun this year. I have a really good group of girls, and I had a blast last year coaching them. I think it's going to be better this year."
The Crusaders lost pitcher Sara Birk, but they return the majority of a squad that went 10-21 last season and won a regional championship by upsetting Waterloo 3-1.
"They were young last year, and this year they are more mature and ready to go," Dori said. "I think that is going to be our strong suit this year."
Junior Kenzie Weilbacher, who went 1-2 with a 3.03 ERA in spot duty last season, will be filling Birk's shoes as the Crusaders' No. 1 pitcher.
"I have all the confidence in the world in her," Dori said. "I think she can carry us. She throws a lot of different pitches. She's not going to be overpowering, but her ability to place her pitches is going to be her strength."
Freshmen Lindsay Harris and Tori Lonsdale provide some pitching depth for the Crusaders, who had 21 girls, including eight freshman, come out for softball this year.
Dori has a catcher assigned to each pitcher. When Weilbacher is pitching, her sister, Madison, will be the backstop.
The Crusaders bring back their four top hitters, including left fielder Shannon Wuller, who batted a team-best .414 with 11 RBIs.
"She only struck out like three times last year," Dori said. "She is a very good hitter."
The Crusaders also have their middle infield back in tact.
Bridget Cook, who batted. 303 last season, returns at second base and Ashley Gagen, who batted .362 last season, returns at shortstop.
Tory Lanaghan will play third base unless she's catching one of the freshmen hurlers. She batted .278 last year.
"I'm looking for a little power from Tory Lanaghan this year. She's very confident. I don't think she had that confidence coming into last year. She has a lot of strength in her swing. It's going to be nice to see that this year."
Katie Nagel will patrol center field, while Carly Bowman will patrol right field.
Nagel hit .357 with 13 RBIs last season, while Bowman had a team-leading 19 runs scored.
Dori said first base is up in the air. He also said a couple of freshman, Danielle Hawthorne and Londale, could see significant playing time.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.