SLAYTON — In early April, Murray County Central’s softball team made 23 errors in three games of the Wabasso tournament.
With the lousy spring weather, the Rebels couldn’t work out their defensive problems.
“The spring played tricks on us, and we weren’t able to get outside to work on actual things,” MCC coach James Wajer said. “Once we worked on things, we played good defense.”
MCC finished 1-2 at the Wabasso tournament, beating Windom. The Rebels then reeled off another four wins in a row.
“We turned the corner,” Wajer said. “We knew we had to get better. Our defense got better.”
The coaching staff worked on fundamentals, including footwork.
The Rebels reached the section championship game last year before losing to Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s in the “if necessary” game in a heavy downpour at the Marshall softball complex.
This year, MCC lost seven starters from that squad, which got off to a 12-0 start in 2007.
The graduation losses included left fielder Laura Beers and catcher Janeane Robinson, the Independent’s players of the year the past two years, in addition to shortstop Kate Peterson, second baseman Courtney Platt, first baseman Brooke Manderscheid, right fielder Annette Magnus and designated player Allison Carlson.
Another loss was foreign exchange student, Semke Lutz (Germany).
“She was the heart of our bench,” Wajer said. “She kept it fun and kept everybody loose. She brought up stuff that made kids laugh.
“We had that this year with Australian exchange students (Ashley Barker and Abby Lovell). It was the questions they asked. They were common (knowledge) to us, but they kept everybody loose. It was them being them.”
In essence, the Rebels lost their entire infield from last year, with Kate Robinson moving from third base to shortstop this season.
“That was a big transition,” Wajer said. “She has a great arm, but learning a new position . . . she has a lot of stuff to learn, including cutoffs.
“Early on, that affected her hitting. Kate tried to learn all that stuff and focus on defense. It was a new position for her. There was a lot to learn.”
With the heavy graduation losses, it meant several inexperienced players filled in those positions this year.
“The girls worked on their focus and picked up the speed of the varsity games,” Wajer said. “The more games they got, the more accommodating they got (to realize the importance of defense) to the game.”
Freshman Abby VanMeveren took over at catcher.
“You throw a freshman catcher back there,” Wajer said. “It was her first year out for softball. A lot of people didn’t know that. It helped that a veteran pitcher like Maddie (Robinson) brought her along.”
However, the rapport from sisters Maddie and Janeane Robinson, who formed the battery, was hard to replace this spring.
“Maddie threw to her sister for three years,” Wajer said. “Janeane was there to say, ‘you are doing this or that.’ She was always able to pick out what she was doing wrong on the mound. Janeane knew when to settle Maddie down. She went to the mound, and I didn’t have to.”
This year, the Rebels had to overcome a first-year catcher, new-look lineup and revamped defense.
They also had to overcome the loss of No. 2 pitcher, Becky Bloemendaal (ACL, knee), midway through this season.
“We had Becky and Maddie,” Wajer said. “They both knew they had to throw strikes. They knew there would be errors that they would have to overcome. Mentally, some times, it was a struggle.
“The way we ended up, our pitchers were not giving up on our defense. They rallied around each other, for the most part.”
MCC, in fact, had a better hitting team this year.
Prior to its exit from the Section 3A tournament Tuesday, it carried a .388 team batting average.
“We hit better than I ever thought we would,” Wajer said.
A year ago, the Rebels utilized hitting as well running.
“We were 100-for-102 in stolen bases,” Wajer said. “We were lucky to get 25 (successful steals) this year.”
Considering the fact that MCC had only a handful of returning hitters back — including Kate Robinson, plus pitchers Maddie Robinson and Bloemendaal — 11 wins is a very successful season.
“We had three kids who had varsity experience,” Wajer said. “We had a lot of kids who were fairly new. We tried to teach them to be aggressive.
“We don’t want to walk to win games. We play the game with the bats. We don’t want to win or lose like that. We want to win hitting the ball.”
There’s good news for next year: There’s a host of players returning, which should bode well for MCC’s softball team in 2009.