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North Miami softball looking to swing away

GET THE BAND BACK TOGETHER: North Miami will bring back five All-TRC softball players and eight of nine starters back to the field as the 2019 gets under way. The Warriors will look for more bats to back up Maryann Freeman (21), who drove in the most RBIs (29) along with hitting the most doubles (9) and had the second most hits (36), runs (20) and home runs (3) on the squad last season.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

By most metrics, North Miami had a good softball season in 2018, bouncing back from a sub-.500 2017 season.

The Warriors were beaten in three of the games that counted the most, however, dropping two TRC games to title winners Rochester and co-second place finishers Manchester, as well as a sectional title bid to Pioneer, who proceeded to run the table to a state championship.

Expectations will accordingly be much higher during the 2019 season though North Miami head coach Rob Cooley will have nearly all nine fielding positions returning for the new campaign.

“It helps a bunch to have so many girls returning,” Cooley said. “They are fine defensively and our lineup will pretty much be the same one as we had last year.”

The Warriors outscored their opponents by a nearly two-to-one clip throughout the 2018 season, finishing the tear 18-6 and 7-2 in conference play.

Three of the losses came by a run while the team was out-hit by a wide margin by the state champion Panthers at the end of the year, leading the team to focus heavily on the offensive side of the game according to Cooley.

“We’ve seen a lot of good things in the batting cage,” Cooley noted. “We’ve worked a lot on hitting the outside pitch, getting in through the infield and just getting the ball in play to take advantage of our speed in Marlie (Halterman) and Bailey (Keim).

“We’ve got to get them back home more. We got a lot of runners into scoring position last year, a lot of times with two outs, but also left a lot of those girls on base.”

Halterman is one of five All-TRC softball players returning for North Miami, earning Honorable Mention status at first base, while teammates Maryann Freeman, Hannah Hall, Ashely Lackman and Taylor Tinney earned First Team honors.

Keim, Allie Miller and Allie Smith also return, leaving a solitary outfield spot that will need to be filled.

The Warriors also have three sophomores that saw spot varsity playing time in Emma Wright, Taylor Hoover and Alexus Eudy, a group Cooley said was more comfortable in the squad after a year of play.

“We’ve seen a little more consistency in the cage with those girls,” Cooley said. “Our sophomores are a little more ready to take over a spot if someone goes down.

“We’re working with Taylor, Alexus and Emma on the first and second base side of the field. They’re doing well with the bats but we’ll likely keep them on both the JV and varsity squads to give them as many reps as possible.”

Three freshmen join the squad in Shyloe Hunt, Jayden Hetzner and Jerzi Trigg, a trio Cooley wanted to get involved in any way he could.

“We may use one of the freshmen in the corners,” Cooley said regarding the defensive lineup. “Two of the freshmen bring outstanding speed on the bases in Shyloe and Jerzi, which will help a bunch.

“During the scrimmage with Penn, we can hopefully use them in different ways to see how they fit in.”

One of the quirks of North Miami’s schedule is, after a three game home stand to start the year, the squad will only play at home twice between April 10 and May 11, one a conference game against Northfield April 17 and a non-conference double-header against Carroll April 27.

With six road TRC games during the 17-game stretch, Cooley said the girls would be put to the test but would hopefully come out the other side battle tested before sectionals.

“The name of the game is to get some good reps in on the things we’re struggling with,” Cooley pointed out. “We’ll try to stay as healthy as much as we can as while we start and finish at home, we’re on the road for a lot of games.

“We break down the season into three sections and we’re always looking to find ways to win ball games as we approach the tournament.”

With most of the squad returning this season, Cooley said the girls wanted to claim the conference title for themselves but would need to make scoring opportunities count more frequently than they had the prior season.

“A lot of the girls set goals about winning the TRC but also winning those close games,” Cooley said. “We needed to be able to push runs through, especially when it comes tournament time.

“We’ve been working a lot on hitting, especially without being on the field much to start the season.”

Cooley said the team also understood that postseason success would inevitably run through Pioneer and would require the squad to be at their peak when the end of May rolls around.

“The girls are fully aware they’re going to need to beat Pioneer at some point,” Cooley said. “One of the things we’ve talked about is that we didn’t hit well against Pioneer in either game last year.

“We know they lost a couple of seniors but they’re a very strong team but that’s also one of the reasons the girls are working so hard in the cage. We can’t score one or two runs, leave runners on base and expect to beat a team like that.”