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Softball preview: Counting on experience

With 13 returning varsity players, this year's Rosemount softball team could look a lot like last year's. But head coach Tiffany Rose is hoping an additional year of experience will produce different results.

The Irish finished with a record of 6-12 and averaged just two runs per game last season.

"The last couple of years our thing has been to get people on base and move them around. We had decent at bats last year and not a ton of strikeouts," Rose said. "Our focus this year is how we can have that really great at bat and turn those fly balls into long drives and soft ground balls into hard ground balls. The great thing is all those players who were inexperienced last year got 40, 50, 60 at bats and they feel confident this year."

The Irish's leading hitter, Nichole Johnson, is back after batting .344 and earning all-conference honors as a freshman. She also tossed 60 2/3 innings as the team's primary pitcher, but will play shortstop exclusively this season.

Returning pitcher Gabby Sprang and several other newcomers tried out on the mound during the first week of practice at the Irish Dome.

"Nichole is a great athlete and will excel as a shortstop and a hitter," Rose said. "We're having try-outs, so we don't know where we're at. We'll roll with it and put our best pitcher on the mound."

Whoever takes over in the center of the diamond will be backed by a veteran infield. Meghan Schuster is back at first base, as are honorable mention all-conference second baseman Hannah Esselman and third baseman Karly Kirchgatter. Sarah Jacobs also returns at catcher after knocking in 10 runs.

Honorable mention all-conference pick Anna Hinderacker (.268 average, nine RBI), Kia Henk (.306) and Melissa Seldon provide experience in the outfield.

Returning players Erica Tamminen, Grace Longman, Nina Kayfes and Madi Van Sickle provide experience and can play a variety of positions.

Seldon, Esselman and Schuster have been named team captains.

"It's great having so many players back," Rose said. "Our girls have very good team chemistry and love to be around each other. They laugh and joke together and that's huge for our team."

The Irish open the season at home Friday, April 5 against Eagan.