Lang delivering for Tiger softball team

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Jenna Lang has started slowly in terms of playing time and production the last two springs for the Fort Hays State University softball team. But, like 2013, the Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate has played very well since late March last season.

Lang was 1 of 2 after March 16 and didn't collect her second hit until March 29. In the final six weeks of last season, Lang was one of the team's best hitters on a school-record 47-12 squad that hosted a NCAA Division II tournament regional.

Lang finished with a .303 average (20 of 66), good for fifth best on the team, with three doubles and two homers.

Lang started 19 games, 10 at designated player and nine in right field -- a position she hadn't played before.

Prior to last season, Lang hadn't played softball at the high school level since 2010 when the Monarchs' team was suspended due to a lack of players.

"She is an awesome find, and I am really proud of that kid," coach Erin Kinberger said.

This year, Lang has delivered a similar trend for the Tigers, 22-13 overall, 11-5 MIAA and receiving votes in the national poll. Fort Hays was scheduled to play at Missouri Western State University today and Northwest Missouri State University on Saturday.

Lang has played behind freshman third baseman Kylie Strand and sophomore transfer Rilee Krier has taken over in right field. On March 26, Lang was 2 of 12 this season.

But with Strand struggling, Lang has started the last four contests, all at third base. All six of her starts this year have been at third.

"I have played third ever since I was young, so if I had to give a preference, it would be there, but I will play anywhere," Lang said.

She has six hits in her last 14 at-bats and carries a .308/357/346 line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 26 at-bats.

"Kylie has been making a couple of silly errors that are snowballing on us," Kinberger said. "Lang-Lang comes everyday and works just as hard, defensively and offensively. Right now, she is the girl."

The Tigers returned all of their hitters from 2013, save MIAA Pitcher and Player of the Year Maddie Holub. Virtually all of the returners have seen big increases or decreases offensively.

Senior left fielder Bianca Adame and Lang are the only two players to carry a .300 average in 2013 and '14.

Adame's position has remained virtually unchanged. She has started all 94 games in her Tiger career and batted first in 85 contests and second in nine.

Lang has started at three positions and batted fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth this season, and sixth and eighth a year ago.

"It's all about your mental approach to the plate just because you might not have all those hits that everybody else has," Lang said. "But that's your job. She is trusting you and putting you in there, and you just have to get your job done."

Olsen, Wright enjoying strong years

Shortstop Kellsi Olsen and catcher Callie Wright are both in their third season as starters for the Tigers. Each are enjoying their best offensive year.

Olsen carries a .300/418/475 line and is one of just four players to start all 35 games for the Tigers. Olsen has already walked 14 times, nine more than she walked all of last spring.

Olsen has started all 144 games of her Tiger career. Senior first baseman Danie Brinkmann has started 146 straight contests, but missed all of 2012 because of injuries.

"I just get goosebumps when I think about K.O.," Kinberger said. "She is just such an awesome kid - offensive, defensive, everything."

Wright, more known for defense and leadership than offense, is a four-year starter. She started 41 games combined in left and right field as a freshman and the last three seasons behind the plate. But Wright is a .212 hitter in 283 career at-bats and has often had a DP.

But Kinberger has given Wright an opportunity to hit recently. She delivered a pair of 2 of 3 outings in last weekend's home doubleheaders against Lincoln (Mo.) University and Lindenwood (Mo.) University. Wright, nominated for MIAA Player of the Week, now carries a .314 (7 of 22) average.

Wright finished 5 of 61 batting last season with no multi-hit games. Last weekend marked Wright's first multi-hit games since the season finale of the 2012 season versus Missouri Western in the MIAA conference tournament.

"She is a very strong catcher, very good mentally," junior right-hander Kelsey Kimminau said. "Helps me stay mentally in the game. She has learned a lot from Coach K."