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FHSU softball begins season on road

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University softball team finished 47-12, hosted a NCAA Division II regional and completed the spring ranked No. 16 nationally, the best season in school history. The Tigers return all but one player, first team All-American pitcher/outfielder Maddie Holub.

However, FHSU is one of eight teams that dropped out of the top 25 when this year's preseason poll was released.

Even though FHSU has plenty of talent and the most depth in Erin Kinberger's three years as head coach, Kinberger isn't surprised the Tigers aren't ranked.

"We earned our way into the top 25 last year, and the last thing I want is these girls thinking that they deserve something based on last year," Kinberger said. "We don't. It's a new year. No one cares what we did last year. The only one who cares is someone who is going to read it a program about last year."

The Tigers were set to open the season with doubleheaders today, Saturday and Sunday in the Arkansas-Monticello 8-State Classic in Bentonville, Ark. First game was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today against East Central (Okla.) University.

"The successes that we had last year are not going to help us for this year other than momentum and mentality," Kinberger said. "I expected us to drop out of the top-25, and I expect us to earn our way back into it, so I am all about earning what you get."

Holub, who leaves in approximately a month to play for an Italian professional team, delivered the greatest year in Tiger history with a .426 average, 19 homers and 56 RBIs. She went 29-4, pitched two perfect games and carried a 1.03 earned-run average.

Using the Runs Created formula, an advanced offensive statistic that shows how many runs a single player contributed, Holub was responsible for 80 runs, 29 percent of the team's total.

"We have discussed that it's good to be underestimated, because then people just want to look over you," said sophomore Paxton Duran, last season's No. 2 pitcher and this spring's projected ace. "We are ready. We are going in, and we are attacking full on, and that's the best thing is people are underestimating. We are going to be like, 'Watch this, we are going to show you.' "

Duran went 15-7 with a 3.09 ERA as a freshman. Reserves Jordan Jones and Katlyn Kern return and FHSU has added two more pitchers with juniors Kelsey Kimminau, a pickup from NCAA Division I University of Minnesota, and Sarah Cochran, a Garden City Community College signee.

"We are being underestimated," Wright said. "We are ready to show some people wrong, and we have been preparing."

Kinberger has done some shifting with the veteran personnel. Senior Danie Brinkmann started at shortstop three years ago. Then, she redshirted the 2012 season because of injury. Last year, she started every game at third base and carried a .317 average.

This spring, Brinkmann moved to first base. She had ankle surgery in December and has been out of a boot for two weeks. Playing first base will cut down on her lateral movement. Brinkmann will hit third.

"Danie didn't do anything wrong at third," Kinberger said. "Just thought that she would be a better asset there" at first.

Sophomore Tori Beltz, last season's starting first baseman, hit .300 with eight homers. Kinberger expects Beltz to bat cleanup and likely be the designated hitter.

Sophomore Jenna Lang, mainly the starting right fielder in 2013, will battle with freshman Kylie Strand for the starting third base job. Sophomore Courtney Dobson is back at second base, but will bat fifth instead of second like last spring. Senior Kellsi Olsen returns at shortstop and will hit ninth again.

"This team has all the potential in the world," senior catcher Callie Wright. "We showed last year what a lot of our returners can do. We have only gained from last year."

Wright, a terrific leader, is back for her third season behind the plate. Wright hit .258 in 2012, but slumped to .082 last year. Wright has improved her mindset for this spring.

"Being senior year, it's almost a personal matter," Wright said. "You know the girls you are playing. You know the pitchers that you are playing, and I have been preparing myself to do more for the team. I am ready, and I am eager to come out offensively and really make a statement, because you have got to hit to play."

Junior Amanda Vaupel, who collected second team all-MIAA honors and carried a .337 average with 47 RBIs, will start in center field for the third straight season.

Senior Bianca Adame (.325 average, team record 40 steals) returns as left fielder and leadoff hitter. Kinberger said sophomore Rilee Krier, a transfer from Division I University of Northern Colorado, will start at right field and bat second. Adame and Krier are both speedy slappers.

"Rilee, she is awesome," Duran said. "She is a great asset. We have always talked about how we need someone with Bianca, and they push each other day in and day out - who is the fastest, who is going to make it to first, who is going to beat out that bunt."