EDWARDSVILLE — Coming up with clutch hits will be the key to another successful season for the Edwardsville Tigers.
"Fast-pitch softball is a different game," Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. "It's all about timing and key hits here and there and playing solid defense. If you can do that, then you'll win more than you lose. If you don't get those key hits, you can be outhit by teams on nightly basis and still get beat. It's all about timing."
The Tigers had good timing more often than not last year as they averaged 8.9 runs per game in posting a 28-4 record and winning the Southwestern Conference championship.
They lost four seniors, including pitcher Amber Toenyes, who had a 16-3 record with a 1.27 ERA, and Taylor Maggio, who hit .436 with a team-leading 41 runs scored, to graduation from that squad.
"They had been varsity players for four years, so that's some big losses for us," Blade said. "We have some key spots offensively and defensively to fill in, but I'm sure most people do as well."
Junior Kallen Loveless will be the Tigers' No. 1 pitcher after being Toenyes' backup the past two years.
Loveless had a 12-1 record with a 1.23 ERA last season.
"She got some good varsity experience in both years, especially her freshman year when Amber was hurt for the postseason," Blade said. "She comes in with quite a bit of experience, but it'll be a little different being the No. 1."
Loveless threw a five-hit shutout and drove in five runs with a homer and a double against Herrin.
Blade said the role of No. 2 pitcher will be filled by committee for the time being with sophomores Allison Loehr and Jennifer Kocevar and freshman Jordan Garella all vying for mound time.
Senior Anna Walshleger will handle the catching duties. She hit .464 in 28 at-bats last season.
Junior Torrie Kruse, who hit .349 with 23 RBIs last season, and senior Lauren Corby are at first base.
Senior Olivia Nicholls, sophomore Hayli Green and junior Sara Radae all are in the mix at second base.
Junior Ari Arnold is back at shortstop and junior Katelyn Bobrowski is back at third base.
Arnold hit .390 with 28 runs scored and 15 RBIs last season, while Bobrowski hit .286 with 19 RBIs in 2013.
Sophomore Rachel Anderson will patrol center field. She led the Tigers with a .564 batting average last season as a freshman.
"She's a very talented kid," Blade said of Anderson. "She sees the ball. She has good speed, good instincts, quick hands. She had a great year for us, and hopefully she'll continue that going into her sophomore year."
Junior Megan Radae and Green probably will join Anderson in the outfield.
Blade said she has a lot of versatile players who play several different positions, so she'll be experimenting with lineups early in the season.
"It's going to come down to who is producing offensively more than anything," Blade said. "I think we've got enough options defensively that the offense is going to really separate kids."
Blade, whose team captured the SWC title last year despite early losses to O'Fallon and Alton, sees the SWC race as a free-for-all this year.
"To me there is five or six teams that could win the win conference," Blade said. "It's awfully deep, and I don't think you'll see anybody go undefeated by any means. It'll be a battle, for sure."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.