Defense rules the diamond during 2019 Tuscola softball 29-3 season

The 2019 Tuscola softball team needed to replace all four infield positions and inserted a new catcher behind the dish, opening the door to questions about the defense behind returning aces Ashton Smith and Kaitlyn Reifsteck. 

After running off 14 straight wins to open the season, any questions were put to rest as the squad’s five seniors left no doubt as to what the expectations were. This senior class leaves TCHS with two 31-win seasons and two 29-win seasons, two regional titles, two sweet sixteen berths, an elite eight appearance and three Central Illinois Conference titles

Smith and her classmates, Natalie Bates, Claire Ring and the Watson sisters, Jackie and Sydney, moved to where they were needed and were the backbone of a defense, boasting a 29-3 record overall that allowed 1.7 runs per game. Smith, an honorable mention CIC selection and the team’s Lunch Pale award winner, posted an 11-0 effort in the circle, striking out 60 while walking just eight and also donated some power at the plate for the Lady Warriors.

Bates, who earned the team’s MVP and batting average awards, made the move from the outfield to short stop where she collected unanimous first team all CIC honors, first team All Area News-Gazette accolades, and 2nd team All State Selection, ending the year with a .495 batting average and 50 stolen bases. Ring was a fixture the last two seasons in right field for the black and gold. She garnered an honorable mention nod in All CIC voting, delivering time high three homeruns, including a walkoff winner versus Monticello in late March.

The Watsons took on new roles like Bates. Sydney stepped in at second base to provide 25 assists and 31 putouts and combined with Bates to turn five double plays while posting a .951 fielding percentage. Jackie took up residence behind the plate throwing out 14 of 17 baserunners and did her share of the damage with the bat leading the team in RBIs with 37 earning her a spot on the All CIC 2nd team.

Juniors Abby Jacob and Carissa Denny will move to leadership roles next season. Jacob is a two-year starter in the outfield and came up big with a homerun against a very good Central A&M pitcher, while Denny was a key pinch hitter for the Warriors delivering key hits late in the season.

The sophomore soon to be junior class is large and talented. Reifsteck a first team All CIC honoree posted an 18-3 record in her second season on the hill and now resides on numerous of the program’s top ten lists. She posted a miniscule .906 ERA, striking out 205 while walking 13 appearing in 25 games. She resided at first base when she wasn’t pitching and hit in the five hole recording 28 hits, including two homeruns and 16 RBIs. Classmate Jessie Martin held down the hot corner at third base committing just four errors in 50 attempts. In her first year full time on the varsity diamond the second year player earned a spot on the CIC’s first team, and was also a third team All State selection. Kendyl Ring landed on the CIC’s honorable mention list for the second consecutive year. K. Ring hit in the two spot for Tuscola ending the year with a .418 batting average. The center fielder pounded out 38 hits and 28 RBI’s while swiping over 20 bases. Kendal Morgan spent most of the year at first base committing just one error on 65 tries posting a fielding percentage of .985. Marissa Russo was the Warriors’ number two catcher, giving Watson a break when needed and will be the future battery mate of Reifsteck.

A pair of freshmen made a big splash at the varsity level, as well. Taylor Musgrave and Keri Pierce both earned varsity letters this season and will be called upon to be a big part of next year’s squad. Musgrave was an honorable mention CIC team member, spending most of her varsity time in the outfield but will most likely fill a middle infield position next season. She hit .418 squaring up a pair of triples and round trippers. Pierce scored 15 runs, banged out double digit hits and patrolled the outfield grass at times. She was 17-0 on the mound for a JV team that ended the year 17-1 overall earning her the team’s Most Improved Player award.

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