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Softball: Covering the basics

Aleah Williamson works on her fielding during the Farmington softball team's first practice.

Paul Harrington has seen first-hand that pitching and defense lead to victories.

The veteran head coach, in his first year at the helm of the Farmington softball team, already knows the Tigers have the pitching in junior Ashley Betzold. Now he's going to work on the defense. On the first day of spring practice Monday afternoon at the Boeckman Middle School gym, Harrington and his assistant coaches spent the better part of an hour dissecting the finer points of fielding a ground ball, from the ready position, to the footwork, the glove positioning, the transfer and the throw. He's hoping lots of early repetition will develop into good habits, and fewer errors, for his new team.

"The game is pitching and defense. Those have to be No. 1. You have to do lots of reps and small-ball stuff to get the fundamentals down. Those things can get overlooked," said Harrington, who guided Totino Grace to five conference titles, five state tournament appearances and 190 wins over the last 10 years. "We worked on defense every year, taking care of the grounders. Any year we had success and went any distance in the section, defense and pitching probably got us there. We spent a lot of time on it and there's a lot more to come."

Relying on the defense will be Betzold, who had plenty of success last season but wasn't a strikeout pitcher. The junior pitched 136 of the team's 149 innings and posted a 2.99 ERA with 66 strikeouts and four shutouts. She also helped herself at the plate, batting a team-best .373 with a .455 on-base percentage while striking out just three times all season.

"I believe she's pitched since eighth grade here now. Having three years of experience is huge, and knowing she's got two more years and it's her time to step up and be one of the dominant pitchers in the conference and lead our team to a lot of victories," Harrington said. "We're expecting huge things on the mound and she swings a mean bat, too."

Also back for the Tigers is junior third baseman Aleah Williamson, who hit .272 with two home runs and nine doubles in her first season as a varsity regular. Senior captain Allison Rice returns at first base and Toni Hunsinger is back after settling in at second base a season ago.

Other returning varsity players include outfielder Taylor Haakana and utility players Taylor Yousse and Erin Wurst. Amanda Brown, Brooklynn Searles and Hannah Miller are among a group of players looking to secure varsity spots.

"I think we've got some good talent to work with. I think we can be contending for the conference and section if our pitching and defense comes through," Harrington said. "On offense we've got a good mixture of hitting and speed."

Harrington will be assisted on the varsity staff by former Tiger Mallory Betzold and former Rosemount head baseball coach Trevor Monroe. Loren Cartwright is back to coach the B Squad, Jim Swedin returns to guide the freshman team and Kjerstin Tharaldson will also coach the freshmen.