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Jasper County Tribune

Key returners hope to keep Baxter softball in Iowa Star mix

Baxter senior Holly Jessen was a first team all-conference player for the Bolts last summer. Jessen hopes to keep the Bolts near the top of the conference in 2020.
Baxter senior Holly Jessen was a first team all-conference player for the Bolts last summer. Jessen hopes to keep the Bolts near the top of the conference in 2020.

The good news for Baxter’s softball team is that all but two starters return from last year’s 12-12 season.

The bad news is, one of the starters who was lost to graduation pitched all but five innings in the circle.

If the Bolts want to push their record beyond .500 for the first time in program history, they will need veterans like seniors Holly Jessen and Kaitlyn Headlee and juniors McKenzie Eslinger and Maddie Pierce to be at their best at the plate.

“We expect to need our hitting due to our young pitching,” said Baxter head coach Crystal Bruntz, who begins her third season at the helm. “Holly and McKenzie will be important, but we will also have Maddie Pierce as our leadoff hitter who led us in stolen bases last year. Mandee Selover will be contributing offensively as well as defensively. Amber Weltha is coming back after being injured last season.”

Jessen, Eslinger, Headlee and Pierce all hit better than .300 last season. Freshman Mandee Selover batted .273.

If all five continue to progress at the plate and in the field, it will go a long way in helping the Bolts stay near the top of the Iowa Star Conference South Division. And help ease the transition for sophomore pitcher Kinley Bethards.

“The experience we have coming back is important,” Bruntz said. “We finished second in the South Division last year, and we want to be competitive in the South again.”

Programs in the state of Iowa almost didn’t have a season at all because of COVID-19. But practices were allowed to start on June 1 and a modified season begins with games on June 15.

This summer will be unlike any other before in recent memory as the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union has issued guidelines and restrictions for practices and games.

“I didn’t know what to expect for the season as this has been a quickly changing situation for which we as schools, teams and players had no control,” Bruntz said. “We are adjusting to the rules set forth by the state and our schools.”

Jessen led the team in hitting with a .451 batting average and tallied 23 runs, a team-high 10 doubles, 15 RBIs, 11 walks and 27 stolen bases. She got on base a team-best 54 percent of the time and earned first team all-conference South Division honors as a utility player.

Jessen also committed zero errors as the team’s starting catcher.

Eslinger is back at third base after batting .413 last year. She led the team with 22 RBIs, was second with eight doubles and also finished with 13 runs, one homer, four walks and 12 steals. She got on base 45 percent of the time and earned first team all-conference South Division honors as an infielder.

Pierce batted .319 and led the team with 29 runs and 36 steals. She also finished with six RBIs and 13 walks and got on base 43 percent of the time. Pierce was a first team all-conference South Division outfielder last year.

Headlee returns to second base after batting .319 last year. She finished with 21 runs, 11 RBIs, 11 walks and 16 steals. She got on base 42 percent of the time and earned second team all-conference South Division honors as an infielder.

Selover stays at shortstop in her second year of high school ball. She hit .273 last year with 14 runs, 13 RBIs, seven walks and 11 steals. She got on base 34 percent of the time and was an honorable mention all-conference South Division selection.

Sophomore Lilie Vansice is back in left field after batting .161 last season. She finished with six runs, eight RBIs, four walks and 13 steals.

Senior Amber Weltha will start at first base. She was limited to 13 games last year after suffering an injury. She batted .185 with six runs, three RBIs and five walks.

The only position left to fill is right field. Candidates for that position include senior Hannah Jones and sophomore Allison Colyn. Jones had 25 at-bats last year and batted .250 with three runs, three RBIs and four walks.

Jessen, Eslinger, Headlee, Pierce and Selover started all 24 games a year ago. Vansice made 22 starts, while Weltha started 13 games, Colyn made 12 starts and Jones started nine games.

Weltha, Headlee, Vansice and Selover all had fielding percentages of more than .900. Weltha’s was .974.

“The team has been working hard this (first) week and we’ve seen improvement over the course of the week,” Bruntz said.

The modified schedule for Baxter means it won’t play any teams in the Iowa Star Conference North Division, including Class 1A No. 3 Clarksville.

But the Bolts will play two-time defending champion and 1A No. 1 Collins-Maxwell twice in conference play. Bruntz also thinks Colo-NESCO will be a challenge and GMG and North Tama will be improved.

Meskwaki Settlement School is one of three known districts in the state which has decided not to play summer sports. But the Warrior players are eligible to play anywhere if the school allows it.

The Bolts are scheduled to play 11 games in 2020. They will play every ISC South Division team twice and then play non-conference games against Nevada, Colfax-Mingo and Grand View Christian.

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