NEWTON — A young team and a first-year head coach grew up a lot throughout the 2013 softball season. Newton Senior High School’s Cardinals return all but two players off that team for the 2014 campaign.
“We’re a year older, meaning we got that varsity experience to put on the field this season,” said NHS second-year head coach Ashley Ryan. “We’re still young with just four seniors on the team but the growth these girls had as a team last year is going to pay off this year.”
Newton had a tough season a year ago, going 8-26 overall. The Cardinals were 5-11 in Little Hawkeye Conference play, which put them sixth.
Norwalk rolled to the LHC title (17-1, 35-5). But the Little Hawkeye Conference race got a little stiffer for 2014 with the addition of newcomer Dallas Center-Grimes, the 2013 Class 4A state champion.
“Dallas Center-Grimes, Norwalk and Oskaloosa would be my top three picks in the conference. But, I also expect our team to be in the mix this season. With the ability we have on this team this year, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be challenging for the top of the conference,” Ryan said.
The Cardinal have seniors Madison Bagnall, Lizzie Stock, Ashton Hoffman and Morgan Davros back. Hoffman returns as the top pitcher. She was 8-20 with a 3.20 earned run average. She struck out 53 batters and issued 49 walks.
Hoffman will have help on the mound in 2014. Stock, who broke her hand in the first game last year, is expected to move back into the starting shortstop spot and pitch.
Bagnall is the anchor at first base. She earned second-team LHC honors as an infielder. Bagnall was the Cardinals’ top home run hitter with four on the season and cranked out six doubles. She was third in hitting with a .242 batting average. She committed just two errors at first base.
Davros is the lone returner in the outfielder for the Cardinals. She is back in left field. Davros had 12 hits, drove in seven runs and scored seven runs.
“We have great leadership from our seniors. Madison is our clean-up hitter and a strong threat with the bat. Lizzie showed up at every practice and every game even after getting hurt last year. Having her back on the field is awesome for us,” Ryan said.
“We expect a lot from Ashton this year. Last year was her first full year on the mound. Morgan gives us a strong presence in the outfield.”
Sophomore starting catcher Sydney Jenkins is “a wall behind home plate,” according to Ryan. Jenkins was named All-Little Hawkeye Conference catcher last year, plus earned all-district and Class 4A all-state honors.
“Sydney does a great job of leading Ashton from behind the plate. She is a great leadoff hitter for us. Sydney puts the ball in play and has great speed on the bases,” Ryan said.
Jenkins led the Cardinals in hitting with a .371 batting average and she was third in the conference in hitting. She was the team leader in hits with 36, including three triples and five doubles. Jenkins drove in a team-high 14 runs and was 17 for 17 in stolen base attempts. Jenkins had six errors as the Cardinal catcher.
Sophomore Kari Adams stepped into the starting role at shortstop when Stock was injured last year. Ryan said Adams will fill an infield spot. Also back is sophomore Fran Lucas at second base.
“Third base is up for grabs right now with Kari, junior Katie Chisholm and freshman Bailey Davis are working there in practices,” Ryan said. “We’re looking to fill the outfield vacancies and have a lot of players vying for those spots.”
Chisholm and junior Andrea VanWyk head the list of outfielders. Also working for those spots are sophomores Victoria Jordan, Jaci Twaddle, Alex Hutchison, Jaci Reeves, freshmen Katylin Ahn, Mackenzie Hanson, Emma Meyer and Lizzie Coyle. Sophomores Allison Ergenbright, Maddy Berstler and Lynae Doland and freshman Molly Davros are battling for infield positions.
“Our defense is a strength going into the season,” Ryan said. “Offensively, we have girls who can put the ball in play and have a good range of power and speed. We’ll look to move players around to score with solid hits and sacrifices.”
Ryan has two new assistant coaches in NHS graduate Kelly Murphy and former Grinnell College player Christian Weber.