Helias will have young softball team this season

Helias third baseman Paige Bange gets into fielding position during a game last season.

Helias third baseman Paige Bange gets into fielding position during a game last season.

The good thing about underclassmen is after their first varsity season, they’re veterans who are battle-tested.

But during that first year ...

“I think we’re going to have two freshmen and five sophomores on the field (tonight), so we’re going to experience some growing pains throughout the year, I’m sure,” said Helias softball coach Dan Campbell, whose team opens the season at Rolla.

The Lady Crusaders didn’t do themselves any favors, either, with their always-tough schedule.

“The schedule is going to be challenging and then our district is always a meat-grinder,” Campbell said. “It will be good for these girls. Win or lose, we’re going to learn a lot this year. We’re going to grow.

“These girls have been working extremely hard, I’ve been real proud of them. As long as they keep that up, that’s all I can ask for as a coach.”

Not having everyone for every practice also made things even tougher for the Lady Crusaders as they prepared for the opener.

“We’ve got a couple injuries that have slowed us,” Campbell said. “It just seems like we’ve got a lot of girls with leg pulls and hamstring pulls. So hopefully that will get under control.

“But we’re as ready as we’re going to get and we’re ready to play somebody. Like everybody else, we need to see where we’re at and see how our girls are in certain positions.”

The youth movement is especially evident in the circle, as Lindsey Steinbeck has emerged from a group of four freshmen to earn the No. 1 pitcher spot.

“Lindsey has established herself, she’ll be our starter,” Campbell said. “We’ve got some other girls who are throwing the ball well — Allie Ashcraft, Kendalyn Hall and Brooke Winge. We’ll give them some innings, even if they’re JV innings, and we’ll be evaluating those innings. Even as young as they are, we’ll be seeing who’s going to throw strikes for us and give us a chance out there.”

None of them are overpowering, but that’s not a concern for Campbell.

“Part of that is just because they’re young, I think the power is going to come,” Campbell said. “Right now, they’re basically fastball, changeup, maybe a drop. But like I tell them, ‘We can’t defend walks. We’ve got to have you throw strikes and give us a chance to play defense. If you’re going to start walking two or three hitters, we’ll look elsewhere.’ That’s been the big emphasis.”

With that, another emphasis has been backing up those pitchers with solid defense. It starts at third base with University of Missouri recruit Paige Bange.

“We’re going to be really strong with Paige at third,” Campbell said. “With all the bunting and slapping, she’s going to get plenty of chances.”

Jordan Nappier, a sophomore, will start today at shortstop in place of senior Hayley Strope, one of the injured players. Lauren Morrow, who started at second base as a freshman last year, returns at that position.

“I like our defense up the middle,” Campbell said. “A lot of those girls are new at those spots, so there’s going to be some learning experiences, but we’ll get through that. I think we’re going to get better and better as the year goes.”

Rounding out the infield are Kaylie LeCuru, a sophomore, at first base and sophomore Grace Dittmer at catcher.

The outfield consists of senior Kaysie Scheuler in center, sophomore Julie Harris in left and freshman Rylie Bond in right.

“Alison Morrow, who transferred last year, has been declared ineligible,” Campbell said. “We’re going to appeal that come mid-September and hopefully we’ll get her eligible. She’ll figure into the outfield, she had a really good summer for us.”

Campbell said the offense needs to improve from what it’s shown during the preseason.

“It’s not where I want it, we’re not hitting enough gaps,” he said. “But I think we’ve got enough team speed, and we’ve got enough girls who can drive the ball, we just haven’t shown it in practice and scrimmages. But I’m hoping once the game juices start flowing, we’ll start taking better swings. We’re just kind of in the dog days right now.”

After today’s opener, the Lady Crusaders begin the home portion of their schedule Tuesday against Battle, the new high school in Columbia. Another notable change to the schedule is the addition of Fatima to the Helias Catholic Classic, joining St. Teresa’s Academy and Nerinx Hall.

“Fatima is a great addition for us, they’ve got a quality team,” Campbell said. “We’re glad to get Fatima and make it four teams, because we had lost one team and were worried we’d only have three.”

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