Effingham Daily News
When it comes to replacing five seniors off a 22-7 team, Teutopolis coach Rich Niebrugge knows who to count on to fill on.
It isn't one senior, two seniors, etc.
It's his whole team.
"We don't think of seniors, freshmen, sophomores and juniors Ñ we think of a ball team," Niebrugge said.
The Wooden Shoes are coming off a season where they advanced to sectionals after a regional final upset of Shelbyville.
Over the past year, T-Town lost Sara and Shelby Kroeger, Emma Zerrusen, Lauren Heuerman and Rachel Hartke to graduation.
Sara Kroeger hit .470 with 24 RBI and four home runs, and also went 17-4 on the mound with a 2.15 ERA.
Sophomore Madison Cowman logged 55.2 innings last season in her freshman year, with a 5-3 record and a 3.14 ERA. She represents the most experienced varsity pitcher on the roster. Kaitlin Smith, Dakota Swingler and Kara Swingler also pitched in very limited action last season.
On offense, Dakota Swingler finished second on the team with a .391 batting average, and she returns for her senior season. Tara Stephens hit .341 last season, and Cowman hit .340 in 16 games.
Dakota Swingler and Stephens led this year's senior class in at bats and innings, although Courtney Mersman saw a decent chunk of playing time last year.
"Each year, you get a different group of leaders," Niebrugge said. "We had a good group of seniors last year. We certainly expect the seniors to be leaders with what they do."
While Niebrugge is counting on his seniors, Cowman's success last season on a senior-led team shows his philosophy about freshmen players is for real.
"I also expect the freshman to hit the ground running," he said. "I don't like freshman to come in and see how things go for a while."
This year's crop of freshmen consists of Allison Apke, Annie Borries and Kadi Borries.
The loss of the seniors leaves a hole or two in the outfield, at catcher, first base and at shortstop. Stephens will catch a bit while manning right field, Dakota Swingler should hold down second base after playing nearly every inning there last season and Jessica Schumacher should man the hot corner at third base.
Teutopolis won last year's NTC tournament, but won't have a chance to repeat after leaving the conference. The schedule will be familiar, Niebrugge said, as the NTC teams are still on their schedule.
The conference switched from five-inning doubleheaders to seven-inning single games for NTC play last year, leaving teams with a multitude of openings that Teutopolis will fill on the schedule.
Outside of the NTC tournament's three games, Niebrugge said the schedule should be business as usual for the Shoes and their fans.
Their schedule is set to begin Tuesday with a home game against Sullivan, weather permitting.
Niebrugge didn't know how his season would turn out record-wise and had no wins goal to speak of, but knows what it'll take out of his team to get where they want to go.
"You never know how wins and losses will go," he said. "I expect hard work, I expect routine defense, I expect good baserunning."
The Shoes open the season with a five-game home stand, hosting Dieterich, Salem, Ramsey and Charleston following Tuesday's opener against Sullivan.