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Softball: Tigers outfield spot up for grabs

Everything came together for the Farmington softball team during its run to the state tournament last spring.

Now, Mother Nature is keeping the Tigers from fully preparing for a fitting encore. All three starting outfielders graduated from the 2012 squad that finished with a record of 17-6 and won a share of the Missota Conference championship, and the latest round of snow means it could be weeks before head coach Paul Harrington can get his newcomers outside the Boeckman Middle School gym to take fly balls.

The best opportunity to test out the new crop of outfielders will be the team's three indoor scrimmages, the first of which is next Saturday in Eden Prairie.

"We've gotta figure out who our outfielders are," he said. "That's one of our biggest challenges, not being able to practice any fly balls outside for maybe the next three weeks. But we aren't going to hit the panic button."

One reason Harrington doesn't feel the need to panic is the return of his all-conference pitcher, Ashley Betzold. The senior is back after collecting all 23 decisions for last year's team while posting a 1.98 ERA, striking out 141 batters and collecting four shutouts. Betzold was at her best in the section tournament where she went 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA.

It doesn't hurt that she also hit .415 and tied a state-tournament record with two home runs in one game in Mankato.

"With her in the circle, being a senior, I think she'll put it all together," Harrington said. "She's one of the top pitchers in the conference and section, without a doubt. With her on the mound we're going to have a chance to win. We've just got to figure out the rest of the offense and the defense."

Besides the outfield, the Tigers also need to fill a big void behind the plate after the graduation loss of Allison Rice. Last year, Rice hit .418 as the team's cleanup hitter and slammed a team-high four home runs.

"We've got good candidates. Defensively, I think the girls will do fine. The biggest thing is replacing her bat. She got a lot of big hits," Harrington said. "With her and Ashley hitting back-to-back, they pretty much had to pitch to Ashley. We need to fill in there with some big hitters in the middle."

The Tigers will be counting on continued production from third baseman Toni Hunsinger, who was named all-conference last year after hitting .333. Also back are honorable mention all-conference first baseman Amber Doyle (.253), steady shortstop Taylor Yousse and second baseman Jordyn Keprios.

Utility players Molly Berdan and McKenzie Nelson are also back.

"Infield defense should be one of our strong points," Harrington said. "We're looking for kids to come out and challenge them, though."

Joining Harrington on the Farmington coaching staff as an assistant this spring is Farmington High School hall of famer Randy Schmitz. Schmitz went to high school and played fastpitch softball with Harrington and guided Lakeville and Lakeville North to several state softball tournaments before retiring two years ago.

"We're happy to have him. It's nice to have his input," Harrington said.

Also back on the coaching staff are Loren Cartwright, Jim?Swedin and Mal Betzold.

The Tigers are scheduled to open the regular season at home April 3 against Red Wing.