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SPOTLIGHT
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Indian softball improves to 17-1

Published on -5/4/2012, 10:16 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

When Abby Maska took over the Hays High School softball team four years ago, the Indians had delivered back-to-back losing seasons and hadn't reached the state tournament since 2004. Maska has recorded a 63-22 record and led the Indians to a 22-3 mark and fourth place finish in Class 5A last season.

The anchors are third baseman Paige Lunsford, center fielder Mackenzie Albers, outfielder Jill Taylor and infielder Makenzie Flaska, the lone four seniors honored on Senior Day before Game 2 of Thursday's doubleheader against Salina Central at Dusty Glassman Ball Park. All four players have started at least two seasons. Albers shed tears during the ceremony and the quartet wore smiles.

Then, the Indians finished another dominating doubleheader with a 17-2 victory. Hays High won the first contest, 15-0. Both games lasted three innings because of the run rule.

"I knew I was going to have build around those freshmen (in 2009)," Maska said. "Just the talent level, the amount of softball they had played in the summer and the coaching they had had under Bruce Schumacher, just made this a perfect group and the perfect timing and they work hard all the time."

Hays High (17-1) received contributions throughout the lineup, including from the seniors and sophomore designated hitter Julie Balzer, one of the few Indians who has struggled this spring.

"That's what we have been looking for all year," Maska said. "I think it's good to get that going at this point in the season. It's kind of where we started to gel last year. It's definitely promising to see the bottom half of the lineup stepping up, getting confidence at the plate, because they all can. They do it day in and day out at practice, it's just getting that confidence at the plate during games."

Hays High hit three homers in the doubleheader and now has 25 for the year. In Game 1, Flaska, a returning all-state player and Newman University signee, homered to deep center to lead off the second inning, her sixth this spring. She finished 1-for-2 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Sophomore catcher Haley Wells delivered her first homer this season and was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

In Game 2, Lunsford added another homer, her team-best 10th of the season. She was 1-for-2 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

In Game 1, Hays High scored eight runs in the first inning, one in the second and six in the third as freshman Hannah Herald -- who also drove in four runs -- pitched three shutout innings to move to 11-1. Balzer, in her first season on varsity, was hitting .214 with seven RBIs entering Thursday. She went 2-of-2 with a pair of ground ball singles up the middle, a run scored and four RBIs. She added another hit in Game 2.

"I think for Julie it was a matter of just getting some varsity at-bats," Maska said. "It was tough in the early going for her, but I think she is settling in, getting a lot more comfortable and she is getting a lot more at-bats. She is getting opportunities to see the ball more."

Taylor, hitting .220, went to an 0-2 count and had missed a bunt attempt before she waited back on a changeup and singled up the middle in the first.

"We tweaked some things with Jill, just helping her focus on staying on a straight line up the middle, not peeling out of the box that some slappers have a tendency to do as they are trying to get to first sometimes a little too early," Maska said. "I think it is helping her work the middle more. She is hitting more fair balls to the left side."

In the second, Hays High made two sterling defensive plays when junior Shea Briggs made a nice play on a bunt and Lunsford had a diving stop at third base and threw the runner out from her knees.

"That's what we are looking for right now at practice," Maska said. "We are keeping track of errors in practice, making consequences for them. Yesterday, we went two hours of errorless practice. I think we are at a point right now when the girls are really dialed in."

In Game 2, Flaska, little-used a pitcher in her career, had the start and moved to 1-0, allowed two runs (one earned) in three innings. HHS scored 15 runs in the second inning.

Briggs and Wells each drove in four runs as Hays High finished the regular season perfect at home -- and continued to their four-year climb to 5A's elite. On Tuesday, Hays High plays at Garden City and must sweep to earn a share of a WAC title with Great Bend.

"I have been tough on them from Day 1," Maska said of her seniors.

"I have asked them to be leaders and they have done it for four years and they have done just a tremendous job."

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