With the 2013 season just around the corner, the Pilot Grove Lady Tigers softball team can finally wipe away last year’s record after finishing 9-14 overall and 2-3 in the CCAA conference.
Returning seven starters from last year’s team, first-year coach Clint Poulsen, who also doubles as the baseball coach, feels like his team can improve on last year’s record.
“We have experience and youth both which a lot of teams really can’t say that,” Poulsen said. “We may surprise a few team, especially when we get a few games under our belt.”
With 14 players suited out for the 2013 season, the Lady Tigers may very well have the experience and talent to compete for the conference title. Nonetheless, Poulsen said if you ask a lot of coaches in the conference they will probably tell you Jamestown and Bunceton are the top-two teams.
“They would probably be the frontrunners but I think we can be right there with them,” Poulsen said. “The one thing about these girls is that they are a group of hard working kids. I would like to see us finish in the top three in the conference and make a run at the conference tournament title.”
The Lady Tigers may very well have what it takes offensively to do just that, with three of the top four hitters back from last year.  With a lineup full of hitters batting .280 or better, Poulsen said he feels like the team will be able to hit the ball pretty well 1-9.
“I think we will be able to put a lot of pressure on the other teams because of our aggressive baserunning,” Poulsen said. “We are also smart baserunners.”
Needless to say, the Lady Tigers will also have their shortcomings this season. Poulsen said right now the Lady Tigers don’t have that one girl who can get 12 strikeouts a game or throw a one-hitter, but they do a good job of throwing strikes.
“Part of that is that our defense has to be pretty good because there are a lot of balls put in play,” Poulsen said.
Pilot Grove will definitely have players who can pitch. Returning this season for the Lady Tigers are sophomores Cynthia Brumback and Kayla Poulsen. Poulsen said while Brumback doesn’t really overpower batters, she throws a lot of strikes. As for Kayla Poulsen, he said she is probably the team’s most consistent pitcher and keeps the ball down. “Cynthia has added some velocity over the summer,” Poulsen said. “As for Kayla, she gives us an opportunity to make plays and stay in the game.”
Pilot Grove may also have a hidden gem this season. While playing shortstop last year for the Lady Tigers, Poulsen said junior Melissa Schlotzhauer returns after battling arm issues.
“Melissa threw very few innings as a freshmen and encountered some arm problems,” Poulsen said. “She didn’t pitch all of last year because of the same arm issues, but right now she is throwing hard and moving the ball around. The biggest question with her is her health and whether her arm will hold up to pitching.”
Of course when Poulsen isn’t pitching for Pilot Grove, she will handle the catching duties behind the plate. While hitting .281 last fall with 16 hits in 57 at-bats with 15 singles, one double and three RBIs, Poulsen said Kayla is a very smart ballplayer and knows the game. “Kayla has a quick release and she does a good job of keeping the ball in front of her,” Poulsen said.
Freshman Marissa Day will also see some playing time at the catcher position. “Marissa will get some time at catcher just because we are going to have to move some kids around,” Poulsen said. “She is very aggressive with runners on base as far as throwing the ball.”
Another player that could see some time at catcher is junior McKalie Lorenz. While third base is Lorenz’s natural position, Poulsen said she will go behind the plate in a pinch.
As for the infield, junior Kerigan Wessing will return at first base after playing that position as a freshman. “Kerigan does a good job at first base as far as stretching and playing the bunt,” Poulsen said. “She also gives us a good athlete at first.”
Day could be another possibility at first, according to Poulsen. He said not only does she have a good glove, she is also smart and aggressive.
As for the second base position, Brumback returns as a part-time player from last year. Poulsen said when Brumback wasn’t pitching, she was playing second. Of course she could also hit the ball while batting .292 with 14 hits in 48 at-bats with 11 singles, one double, one triple and one home run.
Other players who could see playing time at second are freshmen Celine Dodson and Karsyn Kraus. Poulsen said Dodson is a good athlete but just lacks the experience right now. As for Kraus, he said she is just starting to learn the game.
As for the left side of the infield,  junior Melissa Schlotzhauer will return at shortstop after hitting .463 for the season with 31 hits in 67 at-bats with 27 singles, three doubles, one home run and nine RBIs.
Poulsen said Schlotzhauer has great range and a rocket for a arm. “If Melissa is pitching it’s kind of a toss-up right now between Kayla and Kerigan,” Poulsen said.
The Lady Tigers will also have plenty of experience returning at the third base position.  While leading the team in hitting with a .514 clip, Lorenz also finished the season with a team-leading 36 hits with 22 singles, nine doubles, one triple, four home runs and a team-high 30 RBIs.
Poulsen said Lorenz is hard-nosed and not afraid to get in there close to the plate.
Other players who could see playing time at third for the Lady Tigers are sophomore Christine Rugen and freshman Kirstie Schupp.
“I think our infield will be solid,” Poulsen said. “We will be able to put pretty good athletes at every position who have good range and strong throwing arms.”
In the outfield, senior McKenzi Schuster will anchor the center field position for the Lady Tigers. While hitting .354 last fall with 23 hits in 65 at-bats with 18 singles, one double, three triples, one home run and 13 RBIs, Poulsen said Schuster can cover a ton of ground and is very fundamentally sound with a accurate arm.
Other players who could see playing time in the outfield this season for Pilot Grove are Dodson, Brumback, Rachel Lorenz, Katelyn Renfro and Makenzie Twenter. Poulsen said Lorenz, Brumback and Dodson could play either right or left while Renfro will see most of her time in right and Twenter in left.
Poulsen was also quick to point out his starting lineup for the season opener on Thursday, August 29th against Otterville. He said Melissa Schlotzhauer will hit in the No. 1 spot, followed by either Schuster or Poulsen at the No. 2 slot, McKalie Lorenz at No. 3, Marissa Day or Kerigan Wessing at either the No. 4-5 spot, Schuster or Poulsen at No. 6 and either Rachel Lorenz, Brumback, Renfro or Dodson at the 7-9 spots.
“Melissa will give us great speed at the No. 1 position,” Poulsen said. “I think she had an on-base percentage of over .600 last year. McKenzi and Kayla both have very good bat control and are excellent bunter. McKalie has tremendous power and high contact rate. Marissa and Kerigan both are good hitters with solid power. Meanwhile, at the 7-9 spots, Katelyn probably has the best power potential out of that group but anyone of those players can go on a hot streak.”