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NIACC softball preview

Cassie Pappas
Cassie Pappas
MASON CITY – The NIACC softball team opens its season on Monday at the Snowbird Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

NIACC is scheduled to play eight games on its annual spring trip. The Lady Trojans are scheduled to open the Iowa portion of their schedule on March 23 at Southwestern Community College in Creston.

NIACC coach Tyler Sisco says the spring trip to South Carolina helps his team prepare for the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference season.

“We use the trip to primarily test our physical and mental skills,” the coach said, “to see where we are at this point so that when we return to practice we can develop areas that need to be developed so we can be at our best at the end of the season.”

NIACC returns four sophomores from last year’s team that was 12-33 overall and 1-27 in the ICCAC. The Lady Trojans upset No. 5 Iowa Central 7-2 in the first round of the Region XI tournament.

The four returners are Hailey Eckstein (Larsen, Wis.), Beth Mildenhall (Eldroa, Ia.), Cassie Pappas (Mason City, Ia.) and Courtney Stephens (LeGrand, Ia.).

Eckstein, a second-team all-region selection as an infielder, hit .362 with 7 home runs and drove in 32 runs. She also stole 10 bases.

Mildenhall, an outfielder, was an honorable mention all-region performer. She hit .359, scored 32 runs and stole 16 of 17 bases. Pappas, an honorable mention all-region catcher, hit .355 with a team-leading 36 RBIs.

“They expect to use their experience from last year to help the team be successful,” Sisco said. “Courtney had an injury-plagued year that held her back somewhat. She is looking forward to getting past that this year.”

Sisco, who begins his sixth season as coach of the Lady Trojans, said he’s been pleased with his team’s preseason practices.

“Besides the physical repetitions that are so important to build muscle memory and the mental work to make sure we throw the ball to the right base and run the bases intelligently, we have spent a lot of time on mental skills,” the coach said. “Softball is such a mental game because it requires our batters and pitchers, in particular, to have to overcome failure so much from pitch to pitch.

“A great hitter gets a hit 3 out of 10 times. That means they fail 7 out of 10 times. Same with the pitcher. If we have pitchers throwing strikes 65-70 percent of the time that still means they are failing 30 percent of the time.”

Sisco said it’s a good time for his team to start playing games.

“The team is anxious to finally play games against other people, see different batters and pitchers and to test their skills,” he said. “It is kind of like studying for a test. The test shows you what you know and what you need to go back and work on.

“As coaches, we want to see how different people handle the different roles that they will play for us.”

Sisco said he wants his team at his best during the regional tournament in Fort Dodge during the first week of May.

“That allows us to focus on daily improvement and health,” the coach said. “We also want to learn from each game we play and improve on those experiences in the practices in between.”

PITCHING

Sisco said his team’s three pitchers will be Nicki Duford, Paige Thompson and Janae Annetts.

“They each are strike throwers that can change locations and speeds yet each has their own unique style of pitching,” he said.

DEFENSE

Sisco says defense is the key to any successful team.

“It sounds so fundamental,” he said, “but if we can field the routine balls and throw the ball to the right base, we can eliminate the opponents’ free bases. Our stats show that most games are won by the team that has the most free bases.”

Sisco said his team should be strong up the middle with Pappas catching, Eckstein playing shortstop and Mildenhall playing center field.

“Ana Shurtz will also catch for us,” the coach said. “Janae Annetts, Paige Thompson, Katie Cameron and Courtney Stephens will compete for infield spots. In the outfield, Emilie Stirling, Harley Lindell, Danae LaDrew and Natalie Sinnwell will compete for innings.”

OFFENSE

Sisco says his team should be balanced offensively.

“Nearly the entire top of our batting order is back from last year’s team, including our top home run hitters and base stealers,” the coach said.

2013 NIACC SOFTBALL SCHEDULE

MARCH

(Games from March 11-14 are in Myrtle Beach, S.C. All times for those games are eastern.)

11 – vs. Miami University-Hamilton, 9 a.m.; vs. John Wood CC, 11 a.m. 12 – vs. Glen Oaks CC, 9 a.m.; vs. Delaware Technical and Community College, 11 a.m. 13 – vs. Lackawanna College, 9 a.m.; vs. Genessee CC, 11 a.m. 14 – vs. Lakeland College, 9 a.m.; vs. Miami University-Hamilton, 11 a.m. 23 – at Southwestern (DH), 1 p.m. 24 – at Kirkwood (DH), 1 p.m. 27 – vs. Iowa Lakes (DH), 3:30 p.m. 29 – vs. DMACC (DH), 3:30 p.m. 30 – vs. Marshalltown (DH), 1 p.m.

APRIL

1 – vs. Iowa Central (DH), 3:30 p.m. 3 – at Ellsworth (DH), 3:30 p.m. 5 -6 – at Central Nebraska tournament. 10 – at Iowa Central (DH), 3 p.m. 13-14 – at Kirkwood tournament. 17 – at Iowa Lakes (DH), 3:30 p.m. 20 – vs. Southwestern (DH), 1 p.m. 21 – vs. Kirkwood (DH), 1 p.m. 22 – at Waldorf College junior varsity, 3 p.m. 24 – vs. Ellsworth (DH), 3:30 p.m. 27 – at DMACC (DH), 1 p.m. 28 – at Marshalltown (DH), 1 p.m. 29 – vs. Waldorf College junior varsity, 3:30 p.m.

MAY

2-6 – Regional XI tournament at Fort Dodge.

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