Fairmont aims at 4th winning softball season in a row

BACK TO THE BATTER’S BOX — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals softball team opening the season by traveling to Jackson today include, front row (l-r): Hanna Rieschl, Hailey Meyers, Kaitlyn Freese and Macey Bearson. Middle row: Madison Moeller, Chloe Murphy, Whitney Scott, Jen Moeller and Graciela Figueroa. Back row: Lexus Wojtanowicz, Cambrie Anderson, Taylor Crissinger, Sydney Hainy and Jordan Ehlert. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Haley Loerts guided the Fairmont softball program to a single-season school record of 16-7 during her head coaching debut in 2016.

One year later, Loerts’ Cardinals raised the bar to 17-8. Last spring, her senior-dominated lineup’s second-half regular-season rally and solid postseason run netted a 12-11 overall mark.

Now, Loerts and assistant coach Tom Seifert face a normative scenario when they return to the duguout during today’s 5:30 p.m. season-opener against the Jackson County Central Huskies in Jackson.

Fairmont’s formidable coaches have their sights set on producing the softball program’s fourth consecutive winning season, and will turn to a veteran roster to accomplish the unprecedented task in 2019.

“The good news is that our entire team is comprised of all upperclassmen, and every one of them has a lot of experience playing the sport — but just not at the varsity level,” said Loerts. “No one will be playing in a new spot, so that’s a plus.”

Senior co-captains Jordan Ehlert and Taylor Crissinger represent the Cardinals’ only two full-time starters returning to the diamond this spring, but both feature impressive resumes.

A hard-throwing right-hander, Ehlert enters her fifth varsity campaign as the program’s record-holder in every pitching category — both single season and career.

The three-time all-section and three-time all-Big South Conference hurler compiled an 11-6 record and 3.06 ERA on the strength of 103 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 114 1/3 innings pitched in 2018.

“We’ve depended on Jo to anchor our defense (via the pitcher’s circle) during my entire time here, but she’s proven to be a productive hitter for us, too,” said Loerts.

The three-time Sentinel All-Area choice belted deliveries at a .338 pace, including a team-best 11 doubles and three triples, en route to numerous clutch RBIs.

In fact, Ehlert smacked the game-winning RBI single during Fairmont’s 5-4, 10-inning, second-round Section 2AA playoff win over Cannon Falls on May 24 at Cardinal Park, before drilling the game-winning RBI double in a 4-3 fourth-round playoff triumph over Tri-City United on May 26 at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

Crissinger also wielded a productive bat a year ago, hitting at a .304 clip, while reaching base at a .351 pace en route to scoring 12 runs.

The sure-handed Crissinger will return to her familiar position at second base to anchor the Cardinals’ rebuilt defensive alignment.

Senior Lexus Wojtanowicz will compete with senior Whitney Scott for playing time at first base after playing at third base on a part-time basis during the past two campaigns.

“Unfortunately, Lexus has had some injury problems during the last two years, but hopefully she can stay healthy for the entire season now,” said Loerts.

When swinging at full strength, Wojtanowicz hammered the softball at a .517 clip (15-for-29), including a home run and three doubles, en route to a .611 on-base percentage as a junior.

While Scott will also vie with senior Hannah Rieschl for playing time in right field, senior Sydney Hainy and junior Jen Moeller will round out the left side of the Cardinals’ infield.

Hainy will handle the duties at third base, while the strong-armed Jen Moeller will look to fill the void created by the graduation of current Bethany Lutheran softballer Courtney Williams.

Jen Moeller and junior Kaitlyn Freese, a pair of right-handers, will complete the Cardinals’ varsity pitching rotation alongside Ehlert this spring.

Jen Moeller worked 20 1/3 innings in 2018, while Freese logged 18 frames inside the chalked circle.

Senior Madison Moeller and junior Chloe Murphy will handle the catching duties for Fairmont, while senior Hailey Meyers and junior Cambrie Anderson will fill out the outfield positions this season.

“We (coaching staff) have seen a lot of improvement in our juniors and seniors,” said Loerts. “We’ve really hit the weight room during the preseason, and we’re hoping to continue to get stronger.”

Loerts, Seifert and first-year junior varsity coach Jasmine Clausen also have been honing the players’ fielding and hitting skills through an assortment of drills within the confines of Fairmont High School thus far.

“Last spring we spent a long time inside due to the weather, so we had to become more creative in designing our practices to keep the girls active and interested for the entire time,” said Loerts. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get outside in the next week or so and get used to playing on the diamond again.”

Loerts expects Class AA state second-place finisher St. Peter to be the front-runner in both the Big South Conference and the Section 2AA playoffs for yet another season.

“Year after year, St. Peter just seems to be the team to beat,” said Loerts.

“Hopefully, we can figure out where all the pieces fit together during the first couple of weeks, and then be playing our best ball at the end of the regular season,” Loerts added.