MINOOKA – Coming off the worst season of Mark Brown’s coaching tenure at Minooka, the Indians’ softball team is looking to bounce back with a young but experienced group. The Indians were 11-23 in 2017.
“Last season was a trying year for us,” said Brown, who is entering his eighth season at the helm. “We were young and inexperienced and we took our lumps on the mound. But this season we now have experience, especially on the mound. I already can see the level of confidence is way up for the pitchers. They learned a lot last year and now, they want the ball. Last year, they were learning and were a little tentative.”
Three of those returning pitchers are senior captain Alex Loizon, junior Gabby Robles and sophomore Lauren Smith. All three will be counted on for the return to success. Only five years ago, the Indians hoisted the state-title trophy.
“Last year was tough,” Loizon said. “We have already started to work together as a team for the success we know we are capable of having and that the Minooka program is used to. We definitely have a positive outlook and our goals this year are all team-oriented.”
The defense, especially up the middle, will be solid for the Indians and it starts behind the plate with sophomore catcher Gianna Pullara.
“I’ve been catching since I was 9 years old and just love the position,” Pullara said. “From behind the plate, you get to see everything on the field, you are the leader out there, and I will continue to work hard at becoming the leader from behind the plate.
“I really enjoy working with the pitchers and getting to know their stuff from game to game. We have a solid team with a lot of speed and a very good mix of classes. We are working on getting closer as a unit and creating that bond that all successful teams have.”
Team speed also has Brown excited about the season, not only offensively, but in the outfield.
“I have never had the speed we do in the outfield and I will be surprised to see a ball drop,” Brown said. “This is as good as an outfield as we have ever had. Offensively, we want to create havoc on the base paths with that speed. But you have to be able to get on to use that speed. Last year, we were waiting for the offense to get untracked at times. But again, we learned a lot last year, and I fully expect this group to continue to move forward.”
“Last season was frustrating at times, but it was still fun to get out there and play the games,” senior outfielder Faith Chada said. “We have more hope this year already, and I like that this team is closer and has a good mix. I really like to run the bases, fly around the field and our outfield will be pretty good.”
When you play in the Southwest Prairie Conference, a perennially strong league, you don’t have to worry about tough competition. But the Indians also have scheduled a very competitive nonconference schedule to get them ready for the grind of the SPC. They open with Lincoln-Way West and Providence, play in tournaments hosted by Providence and Lockport and also have perennial power Lincoln-Way East on the schedule.
“We jump in right away and the schedule is by design,” Brown said. “You need to face exceptional teams early because it prepares you for our conference. I like it. It will test us right away and it will show not only the coaches, but also the players, what we need to work on over the season before we get to the tournament in late May.
“To be the champs, you have to beat the champs, and we have plenty of those on our schedule.”