By Chris Parker
Hillcrest softball will be looking to improve upon last year’s four-win campaign behind the leadership of a quartet of seniors.
“This year I’ll have a lot of young and inexperienced players. When it comes to leadership, I will be looking at my four seniors to step up and fill that role,” Hillcrest head coach Mike Runnels said. “Those seniors will be Sarah Wilkinson, Maddie Wilkinson, Makayla DeLoach, and Miquela Ewald. Each one has been a part of my program for the past four years and knows my expectations. If we are going to have a successful year, my seniors need to step up and be leaders both on and off the field.”
Sarah Wilkinson will be the go-to player in the circle at pitcher.
“Senior Sarah Wilkinson will be my number one this year. I am going to lean on her and challenge her to throw a lot of innings. She stepped up last year and got a lot of quality innings. Sarah is going to be asked this year to take the next step in commanding the circle. She has been working hard this off-season, and I expect her to hang with the best in the area. When Sarah trusts her stuff, it can be extremely difficult to square up,” Runnels said.
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One of DeLoach and freshman Ish Hamane will play catcher. Whichever is not catching will play shortstop. The rest of the infield is pretty wide open. Maddie Wilkinson is a returning starter on the infield and is projected at third base. Freshman Mya Frillman and sophomore Hannah Hutchinson will compete for time at first base. Junios Jayla Coffelt and Kaitlyn Owens along with sophomore Shelby Epperly are some of the players that will look for time in the middle of the infield.
The outfield will be a strength for Hillcrest.
“My outfield group is my most experienced group returning from last year’s team, where I am returning nearly everyone who got at least one start last year. With that said, nothing is set when it comes to positions and or playing time. Some names to watch out for are senior Miquela Ewald (returning starter in center field), junior Brooklyn Bright (returning starter in left field), junior Lauren Jackson, and junior Jayla Coffelt. Lauren and Jayla split time in right field. A name whom I expect to push those with starting experience is sophomore Caylee Jasper. Those who are hot at the plate will be the ones in the starting lineup come game day in both the infield and outfield,” Runnels said.
Runnels hopes the competition for playing time helps his team raise their level of play.
“Competition within our program is going to be one of our strengths. Coming off a four-win season, I think everyone realizes that nothing is guaranteed. There is a lot of playing time available to those who come to practice ready to work hard. My kids know they can’t take at-bats off with the understanding someone is behind them, eager to win those lost at-bats,” Runnels said.
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Improvement in all phases of the game both fundamental and mental will be important to increasing the win total for Hillcrest this year.
“We are needing to get better in all facets of the game to be successful this year. We are going to need to cut down on strikeouts and battle to get timely hits. We need to control our emotions and learn to forget when things don’t go our way,” Runnels said. “Unfortunately, I can point to one or two plays last year that cost us an opportunity to win games due to our emotions not being controlled. We need to ensure this doesn’t happen again this year. Coming off a four-win season my players are hungry to improve, which has shown during our offseason participation this summer.”
Hillcrest will host a jamboree with Glendale, Halfway and Reeds Spring. The Lady Hornets open the season on Aug. 28-29 at the Aurora Kick-Off Classic.