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Mendota senior co-captain Haley Walters (right) fields a ball during a game last season. Walters is back for her fourth season. Last year, the MHS shortstop and lead-off hitter batted .417 with 35 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. NewsTribune file photo
MENDOTA — Haley Walters thinks the Mendota softball team can be good this season.
Really, really good.
Walters, a senior captain and four-year varsity player, has reason for her optimism.
After the Lady Trojans went 20-14 last spring, this year’s squad returns seven seniors and six starters, five of whom will return at the same positions this season.
“We just want to go all out,” Walters said. “All of us seniors are like, ‘We just need to go out there and just get them.’ We’re going to try so hard and make the team the best that it can be.”
The Lady Trojans have increased their win total in each of the first three seasons under coach Joel Perez and would like to increase it again, as well as win the program’s first regional.
“Since I’ve started, we’ve always had a better record than the year before,” Perez said. “One of the goals the girls have is they would like to continue that and set the win-loss record so high that it makes it tough for any team behind them to break.”
Having a solid returning core is a good start.
The group is led by co-captains Walters and senior ace Ashlyn Kennedy.
Kennedy, a NewsTribune All-Area Second Team pick last season, is a threat in the circle and at the plate.
On the rubber last season, she went 12-8 with a 2.27 ERA, while hitting a .386 to earn All-Big Northern Conference West Division honors.
“Ashlyn went back to her pitching coach this offseason and has developed a few more pitches,” Perez said. “We’re excited, and it seems as if she’s gaining a little more speed on her pitches. She worked hard this winter.”
Walters is expected to once again be the spark atop the MHS lineup but will move from third base to shortstop this season.
Fellow senior Michaela DeLong will play at second base, while sophomore center fielder Brooke Carroll returns after she hit a team-best .467 last season and a NT First-Team All-Area outfielder.
Returning senior catcher Kelly Christman — who hit .421 last season while battling injuries — will move to the outfield, while senior Alex Tavlas is also back in the outfield.
Freshman Mary Wackerlin will take over at catcher, while Halie Donahue or Malorie DeFore will play at first base.
At third base, Mallary Phalen or Taylor Browder will take over for Walters, while Molly Meyer, Breann Garza, Madison McConville and DeFore could all see time in the outfield.
Walters, Carroll and Kennedy return atop the MHS lineup after all hitting .386 or better last season.
Wackerlin will hit cleanup and DeLong fifth, while Christman will hit ninth and serve as a second lead-off hitter.
“I think we’re all pretty solid,” Carroll said of the offense. “We have a mix of different types of hitters. We’ll be fast since we have a lot of quick girls, but we also have people who make great contact, and then we have our power hitters. We have confidence in our offense and feel like our lineup can always do something.”
That includes making some postseason noise in what is likely to be Mendota’s last season in Class 2A. Currently, the school is one student below the Class 3A cutoff.
“Coach always talks about how our expectations should be high this year because we had 20 wins last year and we didn’t really lose anybody,” Kennedy said. “But we still have to work just as hard to be able to maintain and build off our success from last year.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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