Although they won the Minnesota Community College Conference state championship last year, the Central Lakes College Raiders softball team realizes it could have done more.
This year, with seven sophomores back from that championship team, the Raiders are setting their sights on one thing: A trip to the national tournament.
"Our goal right now is to get back to nationals," Raiders coach Dennis Eastman said. "We have experience on our side. These players know what it takes to win so I expect the sophomores to come out of the gate right away and play like champions."
One sophomore Eastman is glad to see back is Tara Storts. The left fielder tore up opposing pitchers last season. She batted .417 and led the team in hits (43), RBI (26), doubles (8) and home runs (6). She was also named to the MCCC all-tournament team.
Storts scored 33 runs and had a slugging percentage of .708 to add to her gaudy numbers.
Joining Storts in the batting order will be first baseman Heather Jacobson. Last year Jacobson batted .333, scored 24 runs and led the team in walks with 28.
Head coach -- Dennis Eastman, fourth year
CLC career record -- 64-32 (.667)
2002 record -- 6-8 South Division, 19-13 overall, MCCC state champion
Returning players -- Tara Storts (of), Heather Jacobson (1b), Gina Clough (ss-of), Jenny Sullivan (2b), Jenny Sundlee (of-c-p), Lisa Gorron (of-ss-3b).
Assistant coach -- Bob Sullivan.
(3:30 p.m. doubleheaders unless noted.)
12-at Bethany, 1 p.m.
19-ROCHESTER, 1 p.m.
25-DAWSON, Mont., 3 p.m.
26-MN WEST, 1 p.m.
3-at Rochester, noon
9-10-Region 13 at Riverland/Austin
16-17-State at Thief River Falls
15-18-NJCAA Division III National Tournament
Eastman is confident in his sophomores' ability to produce on the field and believes not one player is above any other, which has been a key to their success.
"All of our sophomores can produce," said Eastman. "All of them have started at one point or another. We play a doubleheader every time we go out so the freshmen that didn't start the first game play the second.
"All the sophomores are pretty interchangeable. There's not just one person that really stands out. All seven of them can play."
When it comes to pitching, Eastman is a little more concerned. He does have Fawn Kearney back, who posted an 11-5 record with a team-high 58 strikeouts and a team-best 4.61 ERA. Kearney was also named to the MCCC all-tournament team.
But after Kearney, pitching experience and depth become thin. As the Raiders get closer to playoff time, the lack of depth could pose a problem. But Eastman is confident one of his talented freshmen will step up into the starting rotation.
"The only question mark is our pitching," Eastman said. "Abby Leach will do some pitching but she hasn't pitched for a couple of years. She does throw strikes and that's all we want her to do. We want the defenders to defend for her."
And it's that defense that Eastman points to as one of the team's strengths.
"Our overall strength right now is fielding," Eastman said, "at least that's what I'm hoping for. They know what we want to do and now they just have to do it. They're communicating well on the field. We probably have some of the strongest arms in the outfield that we've ever had."
Rene Springer of Isle, Lindsey Finco of Menahga and Amanda Monnier of Pequot Lakes are a few of the freshman Eastman is raving about.
"Some of the freshmen coming in I think could start on any other team," said Eastman. "Rene is quick as a cat and Lindsey is a great first baseman. Amanda can hit the ball a ton so we're looking forward to them stepping up and making some good plays.
Gina Clough (shortstop/outfield) Brainerd, Jenny Sullivan (2nd base) Brainerd, Tara Storts (outfield) Dassel-Cokato, Jenny Sundlee (outfield/catcher/pitcher) Montevideo, Heather Jacobson (1st base) Brainerd, Lisa Gorron (outfield/shortstop/3rd base) Brainerd, Fawn Kearney (pitcher) Mora.
Emily Goff (2nd base/outfield) Staples, Rene Springer (3rd base/outfield) Isle, Amanda Monnier (catcher) Pequot Lakes, Lindsey Finco (1st base/outfield) Menahga, Abby Leach (pitcher/shortstop) Onamia, Heather Anderson (outfield) Onamia, Ingralisa Swanson (catcher) Brainerd.
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