High School Sports

Even through spring chill, Columbia softball trio has Eagles' offense sizzling

Lexi Touchette is greeted at home plate by other members of a deep Columbia lineup after she blasted a home run at Belleville East on Apirl 8.
Lexi Touchette is greeted at home plate by other members of a deep Columbia lineup after she blasted a home run at Belleville East on Apirl 8. Steve Nagy BND

By senior first baseman Calli Wibbenmeyer's estimation, the Eagles softball team didn't see the field for nearly a week earlier this spring due to miserable weather and playing conditions.

The lack of early action, although frustrating, hasn't stopped the Eagles from winning once the games began.

After an 8-5 win over Cahokia Conference rival Red Bud on Wednesday, the Eagles are 16-0 this season and have compiled a three-year record of 68-11.

"It was hard because we hadn't really had much of a chance to practice outside before we started playing games, and so I think it's really good that we been able to come and play well — like we usually do,'' Wibbenmeyer said. "Every game that we play is different, and we've got to be ready to play each night.

"We lost a couple of really good players who graduated in Kelly (Metter) and Courtney (Weilbacher), but I think we've got a good team again. We've got so many players who play select ball that I think we know how handle ourselves when different situations come up.''

A first-team Class 3A-4A News-Democrat all-area selection a year ago, Wibbenemeyer is just one important player on an Eagles team loaded with talent.

Senior slugger Keeler VanBreusegen leads the Eagles in hitting (.516), while Wibbenmeyer and senior catcher Chelsy Pena have combined for nine home runs and 41 RBI's in the first 16 games of the season. Wibbenmeyer, who will play college softball at Rockhurst University in Kansas City next season, is hitting .400, while Pena, a Southeast Missouri recruit, is battling .421 and is one of the top defensive catchers in the state.

Pena was a third-team all-state selection a year ago when she hit .418 with five home runs and 35 RBI. Standout junior third baseman Lexi Touchette has also picked up where she left off a year ago. Already committed to Maryville University, Touchette is hitting .446 with three home runs and 21 RBI.

Chelsy Pena.jpg
Columbia catcher Chelsy Pena went 3 for 3 and drove in three runs Friday in the Eagles' 10-0 win over Belleville West. Todd Eschman teschman@bnd.com

Add strong hitters such as Jordyn Cygan (.394), Kylie Cleveland (.417 2 HR, 14 RBI), Aryn Henke (.477, 2 HR 23 RBI); Mikaela Kossina (.452) and Lindsay Wibbenmeyer (.319), among others to the mix, and the Eagles' lineup is loaded from top to bottom.

Columbia does not have a starting player in its lineup that is hitting under .300. The Eagles average 11 runs per game.

"I don't know if I'd say I'm surprised we're undefeated. We lost Kelly and Courtney, two very good players from last year, but we had everybody else back, and I know we all worked hard to get ready for this season,'' Touchette said. "I think a lot of it has to do with our depth and balance.

"if one or two of us is having an off day, there are two or three others there to pick up the slack. We've done that all season.''

The Eagles aren't playing a cupcake schedule either. In addition to competing in the Cahokia Conference along with Freeburg and New Athens, the Eagles have wins already this season over Class 4A O'Fallon (10-7), Belleville East (9-1) and Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin (21-11).

The Eagles' next challenge will be on Friday, when they travel to Freeburg to take on the undefeated Midgets (11-0) in a Cahokia Conference showdown.

The Eagles success this season comes as no real surprise to coach Rhonda Major.

"With the weather its been a challenging spring for everybody. But this group just continues to have that drive, and they continue to make each other better every day,'' Major said. "We have a long way to go, and we can't afford to look ahead. It's a cliche, but it's one game at a time, and that's the way we're approaching the season. But I am excited to see what this team can do.''

Perhaps overlooked by the Eagles' powerful offensive attack have been pitchers Mikaela Kossina and Kaelyn Rheinecker. Both are 8-0 for the season and have benefited from having Pena as their catcher.

Also a second-team all-area selection a year ago, Pena has been a leader of the Eagles, just as her older sister Taryn Pena was the four years prior.

A junior at Drake University, Taryn Pena was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week for April 2.

"I learned a lot from my sister about catching and being a leader. She's really helped and taught me a lot,'' Chelsy Pena said. "This year has been a fun year. We all put in a lot of time and worked hard to have this kind of season, but there is still have a long way to go.

"I'm excited about going to (SEMO) next year. I love the coaches, and it's a successful program. But I would like to have a great end to this season. The goal is to get to state and win it, but that's a long way off yet. We just need to stay focused and be ready to play each day.''