LONGMONT — What difference does a year make? Nothing. Not when it comes to the Silver Creek softball team. Not this year, anyway.
The Raptors graduated six big-time seniors from last year’s offensive powerhouse, including four to college programs. By no means did they expect to be bad this year, but there always are plenty of questions as to how a team can replace such prolific offensive production.
The Raptors averaged eight runs per game last season. This year, they’re averaging 9.125 runs each time out through the first third of the season.
In the face of a potential drop off, the 2013 Raptors (6-2) have turned up the offense to turn in the school’s best start at 6-0.
The Raptors have been reloading and retooling like this since 2007. This year’s group was as ready to step up as the last. Any more brain-busters?
“We didn’t know exactly what to expect coming into this year but a lot of younger girls have stepped up already,” junior first baseman Katelyn Strub said. “We might even be better than last year. We were all individually thinking about who would fill in where and who would play what position.
“We were all ready to step up this year and just do what we need to do to win games.”
That means hit.
Graduating shortstop Shelby Keil (South Dakota), pitcher McKenna Kostelecky (Jacksonville State), center fielder Ashley Beavers (Dodge City), and second baseman Macy Child (Western Nebraska), as well as Sierra Gray and Alexa Busby, left a cavernous hole in the lineup. Still, as a team, the Raptors are batting .378, 37 points higher than last year’s squad.
Sophomore catcher Sheyann Ludwig currently leads the team, batting .593 (16 for 27) with 15 RBIs and five doubles. Strub, who had 12 RBIs in all of 2012, is batting .483 (14 for 29) with three doubles and leads the team 16 runs batted in. Senior shortstop Keegan Wergin is batting .571 (12-for-21) with 10 RBIs and five doubles.
Junior center fielder Haille Weber (.429) leads the Raptors in runs scored (15) and her two home runs are tops in the lineup. Three other players who have played in all eight games, including senior starting pitcher Marissa Yost (6-2), are batting above .300.
“As a freshman, I don’t feel like the baby on the team anymore,” said Ludwig, who batted .278 as a freshman in 2012. “I have to step up more but I actually feel more relaxed this year.”
Last year’s senior group helped the Raptors to consecutive Northern League titles in 2010 and 2011, as well as a runner-up finish to 4A state runner-up Niwot in 2012. The Raptors finished last season at 17-6 and were knocked out in the first round of the 4A state tournament.
Yet undefeated in classification and conference play, the Raptors’ two losses this year were against out-of-state Tahlequah (3-1) from Oklahoma and 2012 5A state tournament qualifier Ralston Valley (5-2).
The Raptors graduated a nucleus that was rock solid for years. But they’re up to their usual run-tallying hijinks behind a new group with similar expectations.
“Of course, expectations are really high again but we’re already putting ourselves in a good position to meet them,” said Wergin, who has also moved over to fill in for Keil, who starred at shortstop last year. “Playing shortstop this year is a new thing for me. I’ve never had aspirations of playing there but that was just another spot that needed to be filled so I stepped up to the challenge.”
The Raptors expect to be back among the Northern Conference’s elite teams. With a one-game lead over conference rival Broomfield, they’re right on track for their third conference title in four years.
For Raptors head coach Ryan Beavers, the team’s ability to repeatedly play at a high level goes back each year to the next-girl-up mentality the current coaches installed when they took over in 2007.
“There’s definitely a culture here. We set it in the first year we got here,” Beavers said. “We’ve started this tradition, and it’s a young tradition. Each team puts the work in and pays it forward and we hope we can continue this success we’ve had for such a young high school.”
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