Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lancaster softball has sights on State berth

Though Prairie du Chien was the Lancaster softball team’s biggest threat in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference, coach Jeff Pross expects River Valley to challenge Lancaster this spring.

The Flying Arrows defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 on Tuesday, and they now stand a half game up on River Valley (9-2, 6-1) in the conference standings. Pross said he and his players like their chances of repeating as Southwest Wisconsin champs.

The teams also met April 15 and the game was suspended in the top of the ninth tied at 2, and it will be continued on May 20 with a second game to follow, which could crown a conference champion.

“I think we got a pretty darn good chance,” he said. “We return a lot of players, and the girl that pitches is tough. She works her tail off. She plays on the Wisconsin Bandits team so she’s pretty much playing year round. All she does is play softball.”

When the Lancaster High School softball team won the Southwest Wisconsin Conference championship and qualified for the WIAA State tournament, it was a young squad.

All but three players return to this year’s team, and they are looking to build on the success and experience they received last season. Comprised of mostly sophomores and juniors – including all-state honorable mention center fielder Emily Kjos – the Flying Arrows have their goals set high according to their coach.

Pross explained the team lost senior starting pitcher Brittany Caley, but sophomore Taylor Holzinger, who went 6-0 as a freshman, is ready to shoulder the load on the pitching mound.

“I had a group of four sophomores that have played since they were freshman. They played really well for me,” Pross said. “As far as (2009) seniors go, I only had three seniors that started. There were the three seniors, and the rest were basically sophomores.”

The coach also made some adjustments to the infield this year, moving junior Madison Wagner from second base to shortstop, and installing Ally Stenner, a junior, at second.

Katie Landon, who led the Flying Arrows in hitting during the 2009 season, handles duties at third base, and first baseman Sara McNamara returns to the team after missing a year due to a torn ACL suffered playing basketball last winter.

Behind the plate, Leslie Larson is back under the mask with a year of experience under her belt.

“Our catcher is very good. Not many teams try to steal on her,” Pross said of his team’s strengths. “And we definitely have a strong infield, especially the left side. Our shortstop has a tremendous arm.”

It really comes as no surprise that the outfield is filled with young, talented athletes as well.

“I got a tremendous center fielder in Emily Kjos,” Pross said, noting Chelsie Brackett and Bridgette Pross will work the corner outfield spots. “We’re real solid in center field. That girl can cover a lot of ground. She’s fast.”

The Flying Arrows have goals beyond the conference also – namely qualifying for the Division 3 WIAA State tournament again.

“After we got beat in the first game at state, they were pretty let down,” Pross said of the Lancaster’s 6-5 loss to Laconia, only their second loss of the season. “I heard one of them say ‘we made it up here, now we’ve seen what it’s like.’ So hopefully we can get back up there this year.”

Lancaster will have familiar competition in their way, including Deerfield, Cuba City and Riverdale, to reach the state tourney, but the coach is confident in his group of athletes.

“We should have a pretty good shot I would say,” Pross said. “I always tell the girls to take it one game at a time. Don’t overlook anybody. But, ultimately, I think in the back of their minds they would sure like to get up there and try and get into the finals.”

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