Herald-News softball preseason top 10

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Confident but not cocky.

Play with some swagger.

Making the jump from Class 3A to 4A this season, Providence coach Jay Biesterfeld knows his Celtics can play no matter the class.

He wants his Celtics to know it, too.

“Some people say we took advantage of being in 3A last year, and it may seem like it,” Biesterfeld said. “We had 29 wins last year, and we played a lot of 4A teams. We can compete with those teams, and we want to play those best teams.”

Bringing back a strong core from last season’s Class 3A third-place finisher, Providence is the Herald-News’ No. 1 softball team to start the 2013 season.

Entering his ninth season in the dugout for the Celtics, Biesterfeld is ready for the challenge.

“Providence was coming off back-to-back eight-win seasons when I took over, and I wanted to make this a consistent winning program in the area,” Biesterfeld said. “It’s where we end the season, not begin. The goal was to get the program to this level, and we hope to play our best and compete.”

The Celtics lose 17 wins and 174 strikeouts from graduated senior Allie Strick, but depth in the circle will still be a strength in New Lenox. Senior Amanda Wilson (11-8, 114 strikeouts, 1.57 ERA) becomes Providence’s ace, with sophomore Zoe Bruni and freshman Kendal Judge backing her up.

Wilson threw a two-hitter with eight strikeouts in Providence’s 2-0 win over Mattoon in last season’s 3A third-place game.

“You need a top-flight starter to go far in the playoffs and ultimately win the state championship,” Biesterfeld said. “Amanda stepped up big time for us, and she will shoulder a bigger burden this year.”

Wilson (30 RBI, team-leading .476 batting average) will get run support from a lineup that returns its top four hitters in Courtney Pych (39 runs, 5 homers, 18 RBI), Tara Airola (5 HRs, 26 RBI, 17 runs), Morgan Greenwood (5 HRs, 29 RBI, 21 runs) and Maeve Garvey (31 runs, 17 RBI).

“Morgan can just flat-out hit, but Pych gets things started for us,” Biesterfeld said. “We need to play defense, pitch and stay consistent. We need to make plays, make opponents earn their runs, and we’ll scratch some runs across.”

As for who will try to scratch past the Celtics, here’s the rest of the Herald-News Preseason Top 10 (with 2012 records):

MINOOKA (25-7)

The Indians return eight players who started in their 6-1 upset loss to Joliet West a year ago in a regional final. The biggest name back for coach Mark Brown is senior Sara Novak, a threat at the plate (.453, 31 runs, 30 RBI) and in the circle (14-1, 1.65 ERA, 227 strikeouts, 8 shutouts). Other returning starters include Rachel May, Jackie Lilek, Mikayla Melone and Jordyn Larsen.

PLAINFIELD CENTRAL (27-9)

Coach Anne Campbell is looking for leaders to step up for a Wildcats team with a good mix of returning players and underclassmen making the jump to varsity. Central loses All-Area catcher Cailey Baker (.424 average, 32 RBI), but shortstop/pitcher Kaleigh Nagle (12-4, 1.60 ERA; 27 runs, 25 RBI) figures to take a larger role, along with pitcher Sarah Grabowski. The Wildcats need offense, with Dominique Roa (28 RBI) and Michaela Schlattmann (17 RBI) prime candidates to step up.

LOCKPORT (29-8)

Gone is 2012 Herald-News Player of the Year Taylor Weissenhofer and her 22-6 record and impressive 272 strikeouts. No one player will be able to replace Weissenhofer (now at Valparaiso), but Lockport coach Marissa Chovanec is one of the best in the area and will have the Porters ready to compete in the always tough SouthWest Suburban. Returning All-Area player Carly Dundee (7-2, 1.41 ERA) will be counted on as a leader in the circle and at the dish (5 HRs, 19 RBI, 24 runs) along with senior second baseman Ashley London.

LEMONT (25-10)

The Indians return all of their 25 wins in the pitching circle from last season, including Carly Jaworski (13-7), Lauren Young (9-3) and Jordan Fielder (3-0). Having tied with Oak Forest for the South Suburban Blue conference title, the Indians will count on a strong pitching staff and a deep, if young lineup, for support on offense. Jaworski (36 RBI, 41 runs) and Rylie Jay (5 HRs, 46 RBI, 41 runs) will anchor coach Chris Triana’s lineup.

LINCOLN-WAY EAST (25-4)

While Lockport’s Weissenhofer may be the single most impactful departure, the Griffins are without two huge contributors from last year’s team that was upset by eventual state champion Marist in the regional final. Gone are ace Kacyee Hart (16-4, 2.12 ERA) and Alexis Huss (11 HRs, 50 RBI). Chrisi Mizera (11-1, 2.04 ERA) earned valuable experience last season as East’s No. 2 pitcher while Sam Stewart (11 HRs, 45 RBI), Jorgi Calombaris and Nikki Jarrell will lead the offense.

LINCOLN-WAY WEST (23-12)

The Warriors have been young, younger and youngest the past few years, but the 2013 squad has a deep senior class. Sarah Clark (27 RBI), Jess Kaemerer (32 runs), Kaci Krumreich (43 RBI) and Sam Magruder (46 RBI, 40 runs) figure to headline coach Heather Novak’s lineup. Junior Meghan Dieringer (16-7) returns to the circle for the Warriors and with Erin Miller gives West a solid 1-2 punch. Novak’s team returns all but one position player from last season and will look to mix varsity experience with talented young players making the jump to varsity.

PEOTONE (27-6)

First-year coach Molly Anderson has her work cut out for her as the Blue Devils move from Class 2A to 3A this season, but a loaded lineup certainly will help ease the transition. Emily Carstens (24 RBI), Danielle Liberatore (27 RBI), Alexis Dockins (23 RBI, 25 runs), Jenna Balthazor (28 runs), and Allison Waliczek (20 RBI) are expected to pace Peotone offensively. Liberatore (15-4, committed to Ole Miss) and Carstens (11-1) give Anderson’s staff two solid pitchers. The biggest question for the Blue Devils may be how to replace four-year shortstop Alyssa Invergo (now at Ole Miss).

SENECA (27-11)

Coach Dan Stecken has some concerns about his squad’s defense and inexperience. In senior Nicole Pihl, the Irish have a player who can ease, if not erase, those concerns. Last season, Pihl hit .509 with 18 homers and 63 RBI while also piling up 24 wins in the circle. Chelsie McCormick (22 stolen bases) will get things going for Seneca’s lineup with Sarah Radtke (7 HRs, 31 RBI) and Lexi Trompeter (20 RBI) expected to be key contributors.

PLAINFIELD SOUTH (24-10)

Experience, experience and more experience for coach Tara Singler’s squad. The Cougars return five All-Southwest Prairie players from last season, including All-Area shortstop Alyssa Mannucci (36 runs, 21 RBI). As a freshman, Jordan Harbacek was thrown into the fire and came out the better, finishing with a 22-9 record and 142 strikeouts. South is chasing Minooka and Plainfield Central, but the talent is there for a jump up in the conference standings.

Other teams to watch: Dwight (30-8), Bolingbrook (20-15), Coal City (19-15), Wilmington (16-15), Joliet West (19-19)

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