PRINCETON — Bob James has had his share of softball talent at Princeton High School. He believes he may have his best team top to bottom this spring.
“Without a doubt, talent wise we’re probably deeper than we’ve been in years,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had five or six solid players. Then after that we had a little bit of a fall-off. We have a lot of kids with the good basic softball skills. It’s refreshing. It’s good to see. We’ve got 26 kids, and they all know they’re out competing everytime.”
Of the 26 girls in camp, Mollie Bates is the one and only senior. She returns for her third year of second base with the big club and is becoming more of a vocal leader, James said. She batted .413 as an All-BCR First Team pick last year.
“She’s a quiet kid by nature, but she’s assumed that role and running with it,” he said.
James said at this point he has just four starters locked in with Bates at second, junior Abby Jaques at catcher, sophomore pitcher Madison Menzel in the circle and junior Danielle Hughes at center field or first base.
Jaques, an All-BCR First Team pick, swings a big bat (.420, 4 HR, 21 RBI) with a strong arm behind the dish. Hughes batted .271 with the varsity as a sophomore.
In Menzel, James believes she has all the makings to do for PHS what Lainie Schweickert did for St. Bede, leading the Lady Bruins to the state tournament. The southpaw went 9-7 with a 2.93 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 110 innings as a freshmen.
“She’s got great work ethic and pretty much pitches year round developing. She throws hard and has great size. Her hands are huge and makes a big difference,” James said. “I think she has everything that Lainie has pitch wise and ability wise. She just needs a little mean streak. She’s unflappable. If I can get her to have the killer instinct, that’s when she’ll be like Schweickert, I think.”
Menzel will be backed in the circle by sophomore Alyssa Holmbeck and Jaques.
The varsity includes two newcomers to school in juniors Elizabeth Hendrix and Lindsey York. James said Hendrix, who moved from South Carolina, has the makings to be a good talent, but is recovering from a foot injury.
“She hits the tar out of the ball, and she has a great work ethic,” he said.
The junior class includes Rachel Lawson, Brittany Krohn, Devin Truesdon and Jade Purvis.
Holmbeck is looking to step in at shortstop, having played outfield a year ago with the varsity. Classmate Julia Bauer also returns to the big club with Jaimee Ciesielski, a developing speedy slap hitter set to make her varsity debut.
The Tigresses are scheduled to open the season March 18 at home vs. Rock Falls and have seven slated for the month of March. Like everyone else in northern Illinois, they’ve spent the first six days of practice cooped up indoors.
“For the first week, it went really well. We had all 26 kids together. I would say from bottom to top of roster it was very productive,” James said.
• Tiger tales: The Tigresses held a youth clinic Saturday at Prouty Gym with 46 aspiring players in camp. Their T-shirts said there is nothing soft about softball.
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.