The cool drizzle was reminiscent of an early-season tournament at Atlantic, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of the Creston softball awards banquet held Monday night at the home of Lincoln and Janet Jackson southeast of Cromwell.
Rather than struggle through a rebuilding year with the graduation last year of longtime standouts Madison Frain, Katlin Briley and Maddie Haines, the Panthers surprised many by staying in Hawkeye contention into the final week. In the end, the Panthers were fourth in the conference at 11-7, and 19-17 overall.
Carroll knocked out Creston in regional play before the Tigers were eliminated by eventual state champion Dallas Center-Grimes.
Coach Mike McCabe and assistant Teri Keeler had a big task to replace the loss of last year’s seniors, particularly 148-game winner and five-year starter Madison Frain in the pitching circle. But, the young squad containing only one senior and one junior responded well, McCabe said.
“Coming into this season, a lot of people thought that maybe we would take a step back in softball, just in talking to some people around the conference,” McCabe said. “The thinking was that maybe there would be an opportunity to get a couple of victories, or maybe one less team that was going to be in the hunt for a conference championship.”
Instead, the Panthers stayed within range of conference leader Harlan until July, when they dropped a game to Glenwood, and two each to Lewis Central and Harlan.
“I thought they represented themselves and the school and Creston softball in a great way,” McCabe said. “They were in the title hunt right down to the final week of the conference season. They took on a tough schedule. I think I counted 16 or 17 teams that we played that were in regional finals this year. And they competed more than adequately with them.”
A team that often had four freshmen and four sophomores on the field withstood the pressure from previous teams’ accomplishments, and set high expectations for the future.
“There was some pressure on these kids coming into the year,” McCabe said. “We were coming off four straight conference championships. This group really wanted to set out and make a name for themselves. They came up with the theme — surrendering the me for the we.”
McCabe spent some time recognizing the team’s lone senior, first baseman Mackenzie Andreasen, who was named to the Hawkeye 10 all-conference second team.
“What a great senior season this young lady had. I feel really good about what she accomplished,” McCabe said. “She stayed out. It could have been really easy with no other classmates around to do something else for the summer. She became a real clutch hitter for us with multiple two-out RBI hits. She also did a nice job at first base.”
Andreasen hit .365 and drove in 30 runs, including a team-high 21 in conference play.
Sharing MVP honors were the sophomore battery of pitcher Haylee LaMasters and catcher Natalie Mostek.
LaMasters led all Hawkeye 10 pitchers in strikeouts. During the season she pitched two no-hitters and three one-hitters. Offensively, she hit .355 and was the team leader in extra-base hits, including five home runs. She knocked in 31 runs and was a unanimous all-conference player on the first team.
Mostek was on the all-conference second team. She hit .397 in conference games and .389 overall, led the team with 36 RBI and was 15-of-15 in stolen bases. Defensively, she threw out nine would-be base stealers.
Other awards voted on by team members are shown below. The players also presented gifts to the coaches, which included bronze softballs with the players’ autographs, among other items.
McCabe also thanked freshman coach Robyn Ploeger for her contributions to the program over the years. She has accepted a teaching position in the Panorama school district.
Seniors — Mackenzie Andreasen (2).
Juniors — Audrey Fyock (1).
Sophomores — Brenna Baker (3), Nicole Haley (1), Haylee LaMasters (3), Natalie Mostek (3), Kiana Stuart (1).
Freshmen — Taylor Briley (2), Shelby Palser (1), Jami Sickels (1), Josie Sickels (2), Alyssa Higgins (1).
Freshman squad — Morgan Shawler, Kiersten Plowman, Madison Callahan, Mattie Wheeler, Hannah Hood, Aleisha Larkin, Alexus Larkin, Morghan Frey, Cammy Rutherford, Leah Stow, Kristie Hallett, Hannah Fogle, Cydney Seley.
Most improved — (tie) Shelby Palser and Nicole Haley.
Spirit award — Alyssa Higgins.
Hustle award — Brenna Baker.
MVP — (tie) Natalie Mostek and Haylee LaMasters.
Coaches’ award — Jami Sickels.
Hawkeye 10 awards
First team — Haylee LaMasters, Taylor Briley.
Second team — Natalie Mostek, Mackenzie Andreasen.
Honorable mention — Josie Sickels.