By Chris Parker
Aurora softball is looking to improve on last year’s 6-15 finish behind a strong returning group that includes three all-conference selections.
The senior trio of Brooke Schutte (third base), Mallorie Schmidt (shortstop) and Bri Martinez (pitcher/utility) will be team leaders.
Schutte was a first-team all-conference selection as a utility player last year after she hit .406 with a .472 on-base percentage with 4 home runs 18 RBI and 12 stolen bases. She was also second-team all-region as a utility player.
Schmidt earned honorable mention all-conference honors on the infield. She hit .412 with a .474 on-base percentage. Her speed was an asset to with 14 stolen bases.
Martinez posted a .260 batting average with 10 RBI. Freshman Abby Williams will join Martinez as part of Aurora’s pitching staff. Junior Rosie Ackerman will handle the catching duties. She hit .250 last season.
The right side of the infield is wide open right now, but Maci Montgomery has a good chance to find a home over there.
“The right side of the infield is up for grabs right now. It will boil down to who steps up and plays better defense,” Aurora coach James Hoffman said. “Maci Montgomery has really improved her footwork and her glove has followed which could open up opportunities for her on the infield.”
Montgomery hit .324 with four doubles last year.
Destiny Jaramillo will anchor the outfield in centerfield. She was an all-conference and all-district selection last year after she hit .271 with five stolen bases.
The rest of the outfield is an open competition.
“We have some incoming freshmen that will probably see significant time out there (in the outfield),” Hoffman said. “Aubrey Simpson gets really good reads on the ball and will also add some weapons offensively as a slap hitter. Kyra Martinez has also shown signs of being able to contribute in the outfield and made noticeable improvements throughout our preseason workouts.”
This year’s version of the Lady Houns will bring big bats to the lineup.
“We return some girls that put up some really good offensive numbers,” Hoffman said. “The girls have really made great strides offensively over the last couple of years. Extra base hits made up over 33% of our hits as a team last year which was a big part of our offense because we didn’t have much team speed.”
Conversely, the defensive side of the ball will need to improve both in the field and in the circle.
“For us to be competitive we have to be able to make routine plays and throw strikes,” Hoffman said. “We really struggled with free bases last year via walks and not keeping runners from advancing without earning it.”
Aurora will host Bolivar, Branson and Cassville for a jamboree on Aug. 24. The Lady Houns will open the season with the inaugural Lady Houn Kick-Off Classic featuring Branson, Joplin, Carl Junction and Hillcrest.
“Just like every year we expect our girls to compete consistently, be great team mates and represent their community with class,” Hoffman said.