Young Tigers hope to build on 2017 success

Greg Ceilley of The Review staff


CHLOE DIRKER, pictured belting a two-run double against Stockbridge/Hilbert last year, is one of the Howards Grove softball team’s returning starters. – Review file photo CHLOE DIRKER, pictured belting a two-run double against Stockbridge/Hilbert last year, is one of the Howards Grove softball team’s returning starters. – Review file photo HOWARDS GROVE – The Howards Grove Tigers have a very young softball team but show a lot of promise.

HG has no seniors and only three juniors, so head coach Tom Heier is counting on several underclassmen to conby tribute this season. The Tigers will be looking to build on a solid 2017 season which saw them finish 14-12 overall and tie for fifth in the Big East Conference at 11-9.

HG had a six-game winning streak late in the season. The Tigers defeated Sturgeon Bay, 6-0, in a Division 3 regional opener and lost to Brillion in the semifinals, 5-1.

“We had a great rebuilding year last year, showing our strength and cohesiveness at the end of the season. Having no seniors this year, our young freshmen and sophomore players really need to step up their game,” said Heier who enters his ninth season as the Tigers’ head coach.


ZAYLA MUELLER, shown fielding a grounder versus Stockbridge/Hilbert last season, will be a key batter in the Howards Grove Tigers’ softball lineup this year. – Review file photo ZAYLA MUELLER, shown fielding a grounder versus Stockbridge/Hilbert last season, will be a key batter in the Howards Grove Tigers’ softball lineup this year. – Review file photo The Tigers lost three all- BEC players to graduation, including first-team catcher Sarah Gardner, but return eight letter winners, including five starters from last season.

The starters back are junior pitcher Courtney Binversie, sophomore shortstop Zayla Mueller, sophomore center fielder/second basmean Evelynn Spaeth, junior catcher Cassidy Kahl and sophomore first baseman Chloe Dirker.

Mueller and Spaeth were All-BEC second-team picks in 2017. Mueller and Spaeth led the Tigers in batting last year with .402 averages. Mueller paced HG in runs with 27. Spaeth was fourth in RBIs with 21.

Binversie, the Tigers’ starting center fielder last season, threw 22 innings in 2017. She led HG in steals with 15. Paige Splittgerber, HG’s No. 1 hurler and an All-BEC honorable mention choice last year, graduated.

“Courtney Binversie will be our primary pitcher this year. She is inexperienced game-wise at the varsity level but really has prepared herself well for this upcoming year,” said Heier.

Heier said Binversie needs to be an ace pitcher and have control.

“Sophomores Zayla Mueller and Evelynn Spaeth need to lead the team and improve on their power numbers from last season,” he said.

“I believe my hitters have really taken a step forward from last season. Some of the nervousness is gone and the ladies have learned to snap the hips for power.

“The freshmen really do not play like typical freshmen. They are developed and several can hit for a lot of power.

“I have a very strong freshman class this year, including two future pitchers. These young ladies have shown some very good hitting skills,” Heier pointed out.

He said it will be hard to replace last year's battery of Gardner and Splittgerber, shortstop Taylor Bubolz (All-BEC honorable mention in 2017) who graduated and second baseman Julia Carnley (sophomore last year) who transferred back to California.

“Defensively, the biggest hole is replacing Sarah Gardner at catcher. Her ability to throw runners out stealing was incredible last year. With that being said, I honestly know that all five freshmen will start games at some point this season,” said Heier.

“I honestly believe we will compete to be one of the top teams in the conference. My depth gives me that ability where I do not believe I am trying to hide a player. My problem this year is finding ways to get the top 13 kids into the lineup in some capacity.”

Heier sized up the conference race. Random Lake is the defending champion and was 20-0 in BEC play last season.

“Random Lake has to be the favorite as they return Player of the Year [in the BEC] pitcher Cathryn Hiller. They also have shortstop Tay- lar Miller returning,” he said.

Hiller, a senior, was a unanimous All-BEC first-team pick last season. She led the league in ERA with an outstanding 0.87 in BEC action and recorded a league-high 128 strikeouts in only 89 innings.

Miller, a senior, was a unanimous All-BEC first-team player in 2017.

“I believe Manitowoc Lutheran and Mishicot would be the other favorites [in the BEC]. However, with that being said, many teams have lost a lot of key players. There is not a lot of pitchers left from last season,” said Heier.

Mishicot placed second in the BEC last year at 17-3.


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