Lady Tigers look to turn record around to a winning season
Pilot Grove softball coach George Monk knew the 2020 season was going to be a learning experience for the young Lady Tigers softball team.
With only nine players suited out for the season last year, the Lady Tigers also little experience in key spots.
But after closing out the season at 4-14 overall and 1-6 in the Central Activities Conference, Pilot Grove is ready to turn their record around to a winning season and possibly postseason berth in 2021.
With eight starters returning and nine letterwinners back from last year’s team, Monk said he anticipates Pilot Grove having a good season. “We have enough players to hold a legitimate practice,” Monk said. “We return almost our whole team from last year and we are going to use that as a great nucleus to build enthusiasm and success for our program. We have a lot of younger players that will be able to see lots of playing time. Our upper-classwomen are wonderful teammates and can really be good examples of how to approach practices and games this fall. We’re not in any position to predict a better record than last year but we will certainly be more competitive.”
Finishing 10 games below the .500 mark for the season did little to deter the enthusiasm for the Lady Tigers. Since the first day of practice on August 9, Pilot Grove has constantly been around the 17 player mark.
Nonetheless, Monk said the biggest key to the stability of the lineup rests on the shoulders of Grace Peterson at the catcher position. He said Peterson worked very hard last year to improve and has been working all summer to get better. “If she can lock down the position our infield will be very good,” Monk said. “We will have to answer questions in the outfield but again as hard as everyone worked last year I am sure that we will find a good combination in those positions.”
The catcher position isn’t the only position that Monk is counting on this season. Although it’s only been one week of practice, Monk said the middle of the infield is tough. He said the Lady Tigers have excellent and experienced players at second and short. “Senior Grace Phillips will play short again and Kaitlyn Maggard will be at second. Pitching is going to be a key strength, also. Marci Lammers will be on the rubber for us and has been working very hard. I am curious to see how our offense jells. We have what appears to be some strong hitters in the cage. We will see how those swings translate to live pitching. I look to Kaitlyn to again lead our offense and be supported by Marci and Grace.”
Of course the Lady Tigers won’t be without their shortcomings this season. Monk said the team will have a lot of inexperience. He said his hopes are that the girls this year will work as hard as the team did last year.
“If they do we should be able to improve enough to be successful,” Monk said. “We have to indentiify who can play first base for us. Danae Lammers did a wonderful job for us last year but with her graduation we will need to fill that spot. Our outfield will need to be better than they were last season. Right now, the biggest question for us is our outfield play. We’re not a fast club.”
Like every team in the state, the ultimate goal is to win a state title. However, Monk said he feels this year the Lady Tigers need to be successful so that softball tradition returns to Pilot Grove High School. He said with the additional players they have over last year, the Lady Tigers are on their way. “Our priority is to always be good teammates and not have lots of drama that distracts from the field,” Monk said. “Certainly improvements for individuals is why we work hard on fundamentals.”
Pitching is another reason that the Lady Tigers have high hopes for the upcoming season. Although Lammers was pitching behind an inexperienced team most of the season last year, she still managed 88 strikeouts in 82 innings to closeout the season at 4-11 overall. As a hitter, Lammers hit .327 with 16 hits in 49 at bats with 13 singles, one double, two triples and five RBIs. She also scored 20 runs and earned honorable mention all-conference and all-district.
Monk said the junior hurler has worked this summer to relax in the circle and be more consistent in her delivery. “Marci finished the season well last year and she will start the season well and finish stronger,” Monk said.
Phillips, who is the only senior player on the team, will also have to play an even bigger role this season at the shortstop position. While earning all-district honors in 2020, Phillips batted .333 with 14 hits in 42 at bats with 13 singles, one double, six RBIs and 15 runs scored. Phillips also pitched eight innings for the Lady Tigers, finishing 0-2. Monk said Phillips has excellent leadership and is always the first one at practice, which speaks to her desire to play hard. “Grace is a left-handed shortstop but does an excellent job as she is quick and has a good arm,” Monk said. “She will do some pitching for us as well.”
With Phillips at shortstop and Maggard at second, Pilot Grove possesses one of the best, if not the best, infield tandems in the CAC this season. As the team’s leading hitter last year with a .423 clip, Maggard also led the team in hits with 22, at bats with 52, singles with 14, doubles with five, home runs with two and RBIs with 21. She also earned all-conference, all-district and all-region honors last year.
Monk said Maggard is one heck of a hitter. “Kaitlyn is a very experienced player,” Monk said. “She played third most of last season but we moved her to second and she really helped our team with her aggressive style and knowledge of the game.”
As for Peterson, Monk said the junior catchers looks stronger than last year and appears to be a better hitter as well. Of course, Peterson wasn’t bad at the plate in 2020 while hitting .319 with 15 hits in 47 at bats with 13 singles, two doubles, eight RBIs and eight runs scored. “Grace is one of the hardest works on the team,” Monk said.
Monk said the remainder of the positions in the infield and outfield are still up in the air. However, he said sophomores Ava Hoff and Lauren Krumm and freshmen Claire Rentel and Halea Hoff are battling it out right now at first base, while freshmen Kendall Rhorer and Kayla Lorenz are in a battle with Rentel and Hoff for the starting position at third.
As for the outfield, Monk said any number of players could find their way into the lineup for the season opener on August 31 at St. Elizabeth. Vying for three spots in the outfield are sophomores Ava Hoff, Olivia Felten, Maddie Watring, Lauren Krumm and Elaina Wirths, and freshman Halea Hoff.