MHS softball returns with state savvy

There’s at least 13 reasons for the Bobcats to be confident.

Though Marshalltown softball coach Jeff Lamb wants each and every member back from the program’s first-ever state tournament squad to remember the effort and resilience that got them there.

Losing just two players from 2012’s 15-member roster, the Bobcats enter their second season under Lamb with heightened expectations and a renewed willingness to put in the work for another tourney run.

“I just hope the confidence is going to stay up this year,” said Lamb, whose squad won 18 of its last 29 games to finish 21-21 overall and tied for third (7-13) in the CIML Iowa Conference.

“We have high expectations, but we also have to realize that we have to work for what we deserve. We’re not entitled to anything at this point.”

The Bobcats had to work their way out of a 3-10 start last season, rallying behind a strong pitching staff that got on track midway through the year. Lamb pointed to his squad’s 4-2 victory over Class 5A No. 3 West Des Moines Valley in late June as a “good turning point” that helped his squad make a strong push into the postseason.

Marshalltown’s talent from the circle remains a strong suit with Lauren Mazour (7-11, 2.14 ERA) back, though an improved offense will lend more run support to a unit that lost T-R All-Area pitcher Taylor Vaske, who finished 14-10 with a 2.30 ERA.

“Our pitching is probably the best thing we have, but we’re also very capable of doing some other things too,” said Lamb, who also expects to give freshman Jasmine Judge some time in the circle, while Kaley Mead will split time between pitcher and first base with Mazour.

“We’re going to have to have somebody pick us up a little bit from where Taylor (Vaske) was, but we’ll be good in that aspect and I feel really confident about our lineup 1 through 9.”

Second-team all-state catcher Taylor Wagner gives the Bobcat batting order an instant boost at leadoff after belting 5 homers, 26 RBI and 19 doubles, while hitting .459 with 17 stolen bases last season.

“If you’re going to start the game, start it right at 1-0 if you can,” said Lamb of having Wagner, an Eastern Michigan University commit, at the top of the order.

“We’ve been fortunate to have somebody who can run and hit – that’s huge. She can do everything and that’s where we want her to be.”

Third baseman Madi Bellile (14 SB), a CIML Iowa second team selection, adds speed in the No. 2 spot, while Mazour (2 HR, 16 RBI), Quinn Goodman (14 RBI), Cassidy Blackford (HR, 16 RBI) and Mead (.378 BA) will add some pop to the middle of the order.

“We have a very good mix of power and speed and that’s a huge thing to have,” Lamb said.

Defensively, Goodman will move from second to shortstop early in the season to shore up the vacancy left by graduated senior Hailee Beals. While Blackford, Morgan Bellile Emily DeVenney and Megan Major all bring back experience in the outfield, the long-term solution at second base remains an early question mark.

Four was a number of focus for the squad entering last season as Lamb believed that many runs would often be enough to win, considering the Bobcats’ strength in the circle. While it’s still a valid number, Lamb would like to up the ante.

“Four is a good number to start with, but I’d rather score 10 if we can,” Lamb said.

“With our lineup being a little better this year, we’re going to be more capable of putting up bigger runs. At the same time, it’s very nice to have pitchers who can throw it and keep those other teams down.”

There’s two notable teams that won’t be keeping the Bobcats down – at least in the conference race – with this year’s realignment.

Both Waukee and Valley, the 2012 CIML Iowa Champion and runner-up, have moved to the Central Iowa Conference Eastern and Western Divisions respectively, leaving the Bobcats with their sights set on a CIC Northern Division title.

“We have to go out and win it, there’s really not a whole lot else we can settle for,” Lamb said.

“If we do that we’ll be pretty well off and be set where we need to be come tournament time.”

Still waiting for its full squad to come together since several members are currently involved in spring sports, the Bobcats open the season Tuesday at Newton with first pitch at 7 p.m. Marshalltown makes its home debut against Waukee on May 23 at 6 p.m.