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Engbers looks to improve Lincoln softball

Engbers looks to improve Lincoln softball

February 2nd, 2019 by Greg Jackson in College Sports

Jordan Lawson waits for a pitch during a game last season against Southwest Baptist at LU Softball Field. Lawson will be the starting center fielder this season for the Blue Tigers.

Photo by Greg Jackson /News Tribune.

The Lincoln softball team has a different outlook as it embarks on the 2019 season.

New head coach Christine Engbers knows a winning transition won't take place overnight, but it all starts with changing the culture.

"They're really working on that mental shift of expecting to win," Engbers said ahead of the Blue Tigers' season opener today, a doubleheader at Lane College. "When I got here in the fall, they expected to lose, so that's going to take some time.

"Our goal is to take everything one game at a time."

Engbers comes from Covenant College, her alma mater, where she was a head coach the past two seasons. A career .335 hitter as a player at Covenant, Engbers guided the NCAA Division III school to a 45-37 record as a head coach.

"When I came up for my interview, coach (John) Moseley was so enthusiastic about getting all the athletic programs off the ground," Engbers said. "He made me feel like if I came here, he would do everything to support me."

One of the key areas needing improvement for the Blue Tigers comes at the plate. Lincoln averaged just 3.5 runs per game last season — despite a 58-run outburst in a doubleheader against Stephens College — and hit just .249 as a team, compared to .384 for its opponents.

"We've got really good potential, offensively," Engbers said. "Even with the weather, we've used (an area underneath the bleachers) at the football field to hit, and we've hit almost every day of the preseason.

"In the fall, we put a lot of runs on the board. We scrimmaged here and we put 19 runs on the board in about 11 innings."

Lincoln returns seven players from last year's roster, and Engbers has added six newcomers, including four transfers.

The biggest turnover from 2018 comes in the pitcher's circle. Filling that role are a pair of right-handed junior transfers.

Hannah Hennessy pitched the past two seasons at West Georgia Tech.

"She is not overpowering but she is very consistent hitting her spots," Engbers said. "She has three pitches that we can go to pretty regularly."

The other newcomer is Shannon Greene, who pitched the past two seasons for Kansas City (Kan.) Community College.

"She has one of the tightest screwballs I've ever seen," Engbers said.

Paige Parker returns at catcher after playing just six games last season after she was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in her shins.

Lincoln returns 75 percent of its starters on the infield. Tori Nienhueser, one of two seniors on the team, was slated to start at third base, but due to a late roster adjustment, she'll move over to shortstop.

"She is a go-getter," Engbers said. "She is gritty and she's always on the ground. She's going to have the range and the arm to hold down shortstop."

Mykenzie Livesay returns at second base, while Camryn Pryor will stay put as starting first baseman. The newcomer to the infield is Casey Grover, a junior transfer who followed Engbers from Covenant and will play third base.

Jordan Lawson, the only returning starter in the outfield, will make the shift from left field to center field this season. Engbers said she'll also be Lincoln's No. 3 pitcher.

"She has great range, she is a natural outfielder," Engbers said.

Rachael Balke will start in left field, while Emily Williams and newcomer Gabi McGinty — both former Jefferson City Lady Jay softball players — will share time in right field.

Engbers said of Williams and McGinty, whoever doesn't start in the field will start as designated player and bat for the pitcher.

Trista Heavin and Bekah Kirker are the lone freshmen on the roster. Engbers said Kirker will factor at DP and can be a pinch-hitter, while Heavin is a strong candidate for pinch-runner.

During the preseason, Engbers has noticed improvement on defense, saying she wants to stretch everybody's range.

"There's a lot of diving, there's a lot of exciting plays," she said. "They understand that our pitchers are going to put the ball in play a lot and we expect that ball to be caught or knocked down."

As for the batting order, Engbers said Lawson — who posted a team-high .357 batting average last season — will be in the leadoff spot.

"She's traditionally our best hitter, and we want to roll our best hitter up as often as possible," Engbers said. "She has a very good on-base percentage."

Balke, Lincoln's other senior, will bring speed to the No. 2 spot, followed by Grover, Nienhueser and Pryor.

"Those are going to be our three power hitters," Engbers said.

Earlier this week, Lincoln was picked to finish last in the MIAA. The Blue Tigers finished with a 5-43 record last season and lost all 26 conference games.

"We're going to look at Nos. 13, 12, 11 and 10, and we're going to go after those four teams," Engbers said. "Do I want to beat No. 1? Yes, but we're going to try and make a gradual shift to get in there and get a little bit of respect from the conference."

Lincoln will play six games from Feb. 8-10 in the Charger Chillout 2.0 at Huntsville, Ala. The Blue Tigers' home opener is a March 6 doubleheader against William Jewell.