COLUMBIA — The postseason landscape has changed for the Columbia Eagles, who move up from Class 2A to 3A in the softball playoffs.
"I think we should be able to compete,'' said Eagles coach Rhonda Major, whose team posted a 26-4 record last season. "I'm confident that we'll be OK. We toughened up our schedule a little bit.''
The Eagles are in the O'Fallon, Triad and Pinckneyville Tournaments as well as playing other Class 3A schools like Waterloo and Civic Memorial.
Also moving up to Class 3A are the Alton Marquette Explorers and pitcher Alexis Silkwood, who ended the Eagles' season last year with a 3-1 decision in the regional championship game.
"Us and Alton Marquette getting paired up, that was a tough regional,'' Major said. "At the end of that game, everybody was saying, 'That was more like a state game or a super-sectional game. Not a regional championship.'''
The Eagles will play the Explorers on Wednesday at Gordon Moore Park.
The Eagles lost only one senior starter, but it was a major loss.
Catcher Kassi Farmer, who shared the Belleville News-Democrat's Class 1A-2A Player of the Year honors with Nashville's Shaye Harre, now playing is playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Farmer hit .506 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs last season.
"We lost Kassi, but other than that, we have everyone back,'' Major said. "The girls are excited and we're hoping for what should be another good season.''
The Eagles boast two elite pitchers in senior Kaitlin Grohman and junior Brianna Weilbacher. Grohman was 12-2 with an 0.52 ERA last season, while Weilbacher was 14-2 with a 1.04 ERA last season.
"We're very fortunate to having both of them, and we're expecting big things out of both of them this season,'' Major said. "It definitely gives us a lot of options. Most teams are lucky to have one pitcher as good as Kaitlin and Brianna.''
The Eagles also bring back seven players who hit over .300 last season.
"I think we'll be fine offensively,'' Major said. "All of them have great hands and are quick with the bat.''
Sophomore Taryn Pena, who hit .323 with 16 RBIs, and freshman Kalli Farmer, Kassi's younger sister, will handle the catching duties.
Kalli Farmer also can play on the infield.
Senior Savannah Wittenbrink, who batted .384 with three homers and 20 RBIs last season, returns at first base and senior Allie Eckert, who batted .337 with 15 RBIs, will move from shortstop to second base.
Sophomore Kaylee Bastien, who missed last season due to a torn ACL, will play shortstop. Caitlyn Touchette will play third base.
The outfield consists of senior Laura Roessler in right field, senior Alexis Royer in center field and senior Katie Dougherty and sophomore Rachel Garcia in left field.
Roessler hit .402 with 25 runs scored and 23 RBIs last season, while Royer hit .295 with 19 runs scored and 13 RBIs last season.
Dougherty hit .357 in limited at-bats last season, while Garcia hit .327.
Junior Olivia Brower also could be in the mix in the outfield.
This group of six seniors is the first to play under Major for four years on the high school level.
"They are such a fun group girls,'' Major said. "They've worked hard and I really would like to see this group go through this season and really make a statement.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.