By BRADEN LAYER
---- — FARINA-South Central struggled to a 6-21 record last spring, but head coach Gary Kapper is optimistic about his outlook for this season. The Cougars return pitcher Lexi Schafer, and have a handful of others who are coming back with varsity experience. With a core of starters back in Kapper's third year at the helm, the skipper hopes his squad continually improves throughout the season and is a challenger in every game they play.
"We want to win more games than we did last year," he said. "We hope that we can compete, that we get better in all aspects of the game."
Schafer's return gives Kapper a steady arm to turn to on the mound. The junior played a significant role for South Central last season, and will again be counted on to deliver this spring. Kapper says she has all the tools, but must become more precise in her pitches.
"Lexi throws hard," he said. "We're just working on her to be more consistent."
South Central fans will also see a new face on the mound this spring, with freshman Abby King emerging as a potential breakout performer for the Cougars. Kapper is interested to see how she throws in live game action, as his team has been forced to practice inside the previous weeks due to the uncooperative weather.
"All I've seen is she is consistent," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see how she does with some live stuff. She'll be relied on a lot."
Kapper will use a pair of catchers this spring in senior Kellie Crain and sophomore Jordan Schaal. Crain figures to take the majority of innings behind the plate, but Schaal has been hard at work to get some time as well. Both players, Kapper says, have put forth the necessary work in the offseason.
"Kelly's worked hard the last couple years to get better at her defensive skills and her throwing skills," he said. "Jordan has improved a lot since her freshman year also."
Bailey Ritter will assume first base duties, and Schafer could play some there as well when she's not on the mound. Macie Cain will move to shortstop after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, having played third earlier in her career.
Rounding out the infield spots are Sierra Gunnels at third and King at second when she's not pitching. Gunnels was called up to fill in for Macie Cain as a sophomore, and Kapper said she's showing signs of becoming a quality player.
"Sierra stepped in last year to play third," he said, "and if she improves like she did last year she'll help us a lot."
In the outfield, Mia Campbell will hold down left field, Oceana Whitt will play center and Schaal will see time at right when she's not catching. Whitt played in the infield last spring, but Kapper says she's willing and able to roam the outfield.
"She's looking forward to playing center and the challenge of it," he said.
Kapper is looking for his defense to cut down on their errors this year, as the skipper said mistakes cost them dearly in 2012. But to improve on last years 6-win total, improvements will need to be made in all areas of the game.
"Right now we are hoping we can improve in general," he said. "Our first few games when we do get out will tell us what we really need to work on more."
When the time finally comes for Kapper's squad to take the field, he will have his largest roster in his three years as the head coach. Eight newcomers went out for the team, including six freshman. To go along with the larger roster, Kapper says his team has the right attitude and is raring to get the season underway.
"They've all been working hard," he said. "Its getting old being in the gym, we've just got to keep doing good things and it will show up outside."