Having a full lineup on the field regularly would be a welcomed change for Troy Houge this summer.
Collins-Maxwell/Baxter’s head softball coach estimated Monday night that only happened three times last season, which ended with an 11-21 record for the Raiders.
CMB heads into the upcoming season at full strength, something they haven’t been for a while. Only three players played in all 32 games a year ago. Starting first baseman Abbie Haupert played in only 16 games due to multiple injuries, including a concussion caused by a collison with catcher Abby Applegate, which sidelined both players for roughly a week.
Even those who suited up were limited, such as Mackenzie Schmitz. The junior missed the first two weeks of her sophomore season while recovering from a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in her right leg and then couldn’t pitch upon returning.
“Everybody has them, but it just seems like the last couple years we’ve had more than we normally have,” Houge said.
What resulted was a number of eighth graders who saw time in varsity games last year. The Raiders had four eighth graders play in at least seven games in 2013, including Megan Ritter, whose .319 batting average was second-highest on the team.
CMB is hoping this year’s underclassmen can make similar contributions again as the Raiders try to fill the void of four senior starters gone from a year ago.
“They definitely come in thinking they can help us,” Haupert said of the team’s younger players. “They used to shy away, but definitely this year, I’ve seen more of them wanting to contribute. It’s one of those where I think this year their confidence level is a lot higher than it was last year.”
Houge expressed confidence in the team’s offense Monday night and pointed to the pitching circle and defense as areas that could determine how well his team fares in his 15th season as head coach.
Gone is 2013 senior Cheyanne Warne, who pitched 163 of the team’s 203 1/3 innings. The Raiders will now lean on the arms of Schmitz, who pitched roughly one-third of the team’s innings as a freshman, and freshman Heather Jessen, who pitched 40 1/3 innings as an eighth grader while compiling a 3-4 record at the varsity level.
“[Some of our success] is going to depend on what those two pitchers can do with a full season of having to get after it and pitch,” Houge said. “Having a full year without pitching, how is [Schmitz] going to stack up and how is Heather going to stack up with a full year grind of high school varsity softball?”
“I think it’s going to be how our defense gels as the year goes on. If the defense gels well, then I think we’ve got a shot to do pretty well.”
CMB is only four years removed from the softball program’s lone conference championship won in 2010. The Raiders won 23 games that year, a school record.
Since then, CMB has won 32 games over the last three seasons combined.
Houge is hopeful that, if healthy, this year’s team can be more successful.
“With this group, I think we’re getting back to where we want to be,” Houge said. “After a couple of years where we’ve struggled a little bit, we’re getting back to where we want to be, and I think we’ve got a shot to be a pretty good team, maybe get back on the winning side of things this year and start getting some success out here.”