The new softball season could be one of many happy returns for Hillsboro.
The Trojans return to Class 3A competition after finishing last year as runners-up in Class 2A to Chase County. Six all-state selections from that squad return this season.
Head coach Stephanie Sinclair has what she termed an “unusual” but fortunate set of returns — two experienced catcher-pitcher pairs.
The catchers, Bradli Nowak and Madison Klein, have signed to play in college. Sinclair said each of the all-staters is capable of calling games for the pitcher they catch.
“We didn’t really have a set catcher with a pitcher, but my catchers do a really good job of calling a game,” Sinclair said. “They know which pitches will work by paying close attention to the batters. They pretty much manage the whole game. They’re both solid hitters, too.”
The two returning all-state pitchers are right-hander Allison Weber and left-hander Julie Sinclair.
“They pretty much shared the mound last year, and they both do a good job,” Sinclair said.
The outfield will be solid with the return of all-state fielders Emily Jost and Kennedy Lucero. Jost can play both left and center fields, and will play center when Weber is pitching, Sinclair said.
Lucero handles right field, and smart positioning complements her strong fielding skills, Sinclair said.
“She backs up every play she needs to,” Sinclair said. “She’s smart, she’s quick, and she backs up first base. She’s a solid outfielder.”
In the infield, the picture is not so clear. Shortstop was vacated by the graduation of Danae Bina, and Shannon Heiser will get a shot at playing time there, as well as at first and third bases. Sinclair will play first base, and Savannah Unruh is a possibility at third.
On offense, Sinclair said she mixes up her approach depending on the team the opponent. Whatever team that is, Weber will be her lead-off hitter.
“Allison is a slapper, she can get us going,” Sinclair said. “We’ve got some solid hitters behind her, probably all the way down to the seven hole. We’ve been pretty blessed to have a team that will bat close to .400.”
Hillsboro has been to the state tournament five of the past six years, but Sinclair said winning the Central Kansas League title is a more immediate goal.
“It’s very tough to win our league, that’s a huge accomplishment by itself,” Sinclair said. “It’s going to take some solid defense, and we’re hoping to put that on the field. We’re working hard on the defensive end, probably more so than ever.”
The state tournament, however, remains the team’s ultimate goal.
“It’s tough to get there,” Sinclair said. “Even though we have that tradition of going, you have to realize only eight teams get to go, and it’s huge.”