CONCORDIA, Kansas — Key pieces in key positions has the Cloud County Community College softball team optimistic about what it can accomplish during the 2018 season, which is set to get underway February 16-17 at the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, TX.
The T-Birds were originally scheduled to open up at home Tuesday, Feb. 13 against Central Community College-Columbus, but recent snowfall and a frigid forecast for next week forced them to postpone their home opener. Instead, Cloud County will look to use next weekend's Cowtown Classic under the clear Texas skies as a springboard for a team hungry to improve on a 19-22 overall record a season ago.
"We need to get off to a good start and win some games early," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree, now in his 16th season. "That's going to be key. If we can come home from Texas with a 3-2 record or 4-1 to get some momentum, that's what we're going to need."
Cloud County returns a talented crop of sophomores at important positions around the diamond, which includes two reigning NJCAA Region VI Division II All-District D selections, right-hander pitcher Jordan Ummel and infielder Nicole Dinkel, as well as starting outfielder Autumn Adams and starting catcher Kayla West.
Ummel was a First-Team selection after a breakout freshman season that saw her go 8-5 with a 2.51 earned run average and one save in 19 appearances.
Dinkel, a Second-Team All-District D player in 2017, will slide from third base to shortstop this spring, which Acree called a "more natural position" for her. Dinkel is coming off a freshman season that saw hit .311, tie for the team-high in home runs (3) and finish second in runs batted in (21).
The trio of Dinkel, Adams and West will lead a Cloud County lineup that will pride themselves on making consistent contact and in their execution.
"We've changed some things, offensively, this season that I think will help us," Acree said. "We're not as fast this year, but if we can execute our bunts and hit-and-runs, we'll be able to manufacture some runs."
Cloud County has brought in a handful of talented newcomers to complement its sophomore core, including dual threats in Madison Hammond and Alyssa Corpus, each of whom are expected to double as impact pitchers and hitters.
Hammond is a hard-throwing right-hander out of Clyde, Kansas who posted a 1.37 earned run average and 50 strikeouts in 51 innings as a senior at Republic County High School, while Corpus provides the T-Birds a deceptive left-hander and power bat in the middle of their order.
Freshman third baseman Payton Gillen out of Silver Lake, Kansas is expected to be the table setter for Cloud County after an impressive fall semester showing.
"She never batted leadoff before until she came here. But I put here there this fall and she just competes," said Acree of Gillen. "She finds ways to get on so we're going to keep her up there."
Freshman outfielder Shania Schraad and Mariah Plummer, utility players Mikayla Leakey, Kelsey Bowers and Alyssa Mitoska, and infielders Madison Hartley and Jazmyn Tannie round out a versatile Cloud County lineup.
The T-Birds will need contributions from all 14 players to reach their goals of competing head-to-head with the top teams in the ever tough Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) and hosting a first-round Region VI playoff series for a second year in a row.
"I think finishing in the top 6-7 teams of the conference and hosting a first-round Region VI playoff game is our steady goal," Acree said. "The biggest thing will be staying healthy because we're going to need everybody."