JACKSONVILLE – For the first time this spring, the Seneca softball team got to kick the figurative tires to its season. Playing down south in the Jacksonville Play the Turf Jamboree, the Irish went 3-1 at the event.
“Overall in our four games I was very pleased with our hitting,” Seneca coach Dan Stecken said. “Signs point to us having a dangerous lineup this season as we had 37 hits in those four games against some quality pitching.”
Seneca opened with a 5-4 win over Princeville when Lexi Trompeter collected two singles and two RBIs. Sarah Radtke also had a double and a stolen base. Likewise, Jenni Nugent and Karlie Cade had a hit and a stolen base.
Rachel Sangston was the winning pitcher. She scattered eight hits and two earned runs while striking out four in her first varsity start.
In the second game, Seneca defeated Chicago Christian 10-0 with Nugent and Trompeter having three hits each. Trompeter’s hits included a double and a triple and she also drove in three.
Becca Towne was the winning pitcher. It was her first varsity victory. She allowed eight hits and struck out seven.
On Saturday against Rushville Industry, Seneca won 12-4 behind four hits, including a double, and two RBIs by Radtke. Trompeter and Nugent had two hits each and Trompeter two RBIs.
Sangston was the winning pitcher.
Seneca then absorbed its first loss of the season when Maroa Forsythe defeated the Irish 16-6.
“It’s always tough to play defensively on the turf and we had some uncharacteristic defensive miscues that we need to clean up,” Stecken said. “We had a lot of youth out on the field and it was nice to see some of the youngsters step up.”
On of those “youngsters” was Sangston, though she had to leave the game against Maroa after being hit by a line drive off of her pitching hand.
“Already missing Kayla Haines [out for the year] coming into the season, the remaining Irish pitchers struggled against such a quality team and our defense wasn’t up to par either and we fell apart,” Stecken said.
Seneca was up 6-2 in the fifth inning of the game when the collapse happened. Taylor Vandeberg had the big hit of the game, an RBI bases-loaded triple.
For the weekend, Radtke and Lexi Trompeter had eight hits each, while Nugent added six and Vandeberg four.
“With such a young team, coming out of this weekend 3-1 made me happy for the kids,” Stecken said. “They could see the talent I see in the cages and gym and that equated to some success on the diamond this weekend.”
Perhaps the biggest storyline to the season of the Lady Irish coming in was the status of the pitching staff. Gone from last year is Nicole Pihl and the person that was supposed to replace her this year – Haines – went down with a season-ending knee injury during basketball season. Those are just two of the players Seneca is without this spring.
“We lost six starters to graduation and one to a knee injury,” Stecken said. “Obviously losing a player of Nicole Pihl’s caliber is difficult, but we also lost four-year varsity starter in Chelsea McCormick and Erin Hovious, April Hovious, Sammy Stuedemann and Mallory Wilson.”
Seneca was 24-7 and Interstate Eight Conference champs last year. If they are going to approach those things again, they are going to need big years from Radtke and Trompeter. Radtke finished last season with a .490 batting average, which included 23 extra base hits. Trompeter hit .323 with 10 extra base hits.
“Having a bat in the lineup like radtke’s is always a huge help,” Stecken said. “I am excited to see which of these new players will step up and make significant contributions.”
New players that are mostly underclassmen.
“We have six underclassmen on our varsity team and developing team chemistry was a concern, but it is amazing to see the leadership of our upperclassmen embracing these young players to this program,” Stecken said. “It is also comforting to work with a group of kids that are willing to push themselves each day in practice.”
That is, if the season can overcome the current spring climate.
“After [Jacksonville], who knows how long it might be before we play again due to excessive frost, snow and spring rain,” Stecken said.