By CONOR NICHOLL
The Fort Hays State University softball team returned seven seniors from last spring's 47-12 squad. Four seniors, outfielder Bianca Adame, infielder Danie Brinkmann, catcher Callie Wright and shortstop Kellsi Olsen, have earned all-MIAA honors at some point in their Tiger careers.
Amy Dunn was the No. 2 catcher and also saw time in right field. Jordan Jones and Katlyn Kern served as relief pitchers, and Kern played some in the outfield for defensive purposes in 2013.
This spring, the seniors have helped the Tigers replace first team All-American Maddie Holub, the only graduate off the 2013 team. FHSU (14-5, 4-0 MIAA) moved up two spots to No. 13 in the newest NCAA Division II poll released Wednesday.
"The senior class has a lot of talent," coach Erin Kinberger said. "We have needed them to step up."
This weekend, the Tigers have two critical doubleheaders against Emporia State University, ranked No. 21 nationally, in a 4 p.m. start Friday. Then, FHSU plays host to Washburn University in a 1 p.m. start Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Emporia State is 17-4, 4-0 MIAA, while Washburn stands at 9-3, 5-1 MIAA.
It ends a stretch of 10 straight home games that included last Sunday and Monday against University of Central Missouri and Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University. FHSU is 5-1 in the homestand.
"Every week from the start of season to the end of season is so important for different reasons," Kinberger said. "We are now in conference, but we don't place more emphasis on any team or any given week."
The seniors have all improved from last season, none bigger than Kern, arguably the team's biggest surprise.
"Us as seniors, we really stick as the leaders of the team," Kern said.
Kern was 0-1 with a 5.25 earned-run average in two appearances last spring, but is 1-0 with a 0.81 ERA with four saves in seven relief appearances this year.
"It's a mix between curves and screws and knuckles and changes and rises," Brinkmann said of Kern's arsenal. "I don't even know what you call it, but it's nasty junk and it works, that's all I know."
Olsen has delivered a 282/431/436 line of batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage while again batting in the No. 9 spot in the order. Last season, she carried a 238/270/397 line.
Brinkmann batted .317 with 20 extra base hits in 59 contests in 2013, and has a .321 average with seven extra base hits (all doubles) this year. Sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson leads the team with a .393 average, up from a .288 mark a year ago. FHSU has averaged 5.5 runs a contest, an increase from 5.3 in 2013.
"They are a very strong hitting team," Central Missouri coach Susan Anderson said.
Dunn batted .176 in 51 at-bats a year ago and has hit .176 in 17 at-bats this season. She has equaled her .294 slugging percentage from last year and improved her on-base percentage from .364 to .391.
She has mainly handled junior right-hander Kelsey Kimminau, who has delivered a 6-1 record and 2.59 ERA in her first season as the Tiger.
Wright, known for defense and leadership, has helped Paxton Duran to a 7-3 mark and 2.75 ERA. Duran had a 3.09 ERA as a freshman. Wright also recently won the Cerv's Leadership Award, given to one FHSU male and female athlete per year.
Adame carries a .338 average, up from .325 a year ago. Adame batted leadoff all last season and the start of this year, but switched to the No. 2 hole in the second game of last Sunday's doubleheader.
Sophomore Rilee Krier (.391) moved to leadoff. In three games in the No. 2 slot, Adame is 4 of 11 with five runs scored and three stolen bases.
"Rilee is a really good thinker of the game, and B has been struggling, so we are going to take a little pressure off Bianca," Kinberger said.