Even though softball is played with an optic yellow ball, the East Central College season will not start in the snow.
The softball Falcons, ranked 20th in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll, will try to play in Harrison, Arkansas, with games against North Arkansas College and Southwestern (Iowa) Community College next Friday and Saturday.
The games originally were scheduled for Friday and Saturday, but couldn’t be played due to snow. The complex is expected to be ready for next weekend.
The home opener for Brad Wallach’s team is set for Wednesday, March 3, against the Missouri Baptist University JV team. The first game of the doubleheader is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
It’s been a long trip for Wallach’s Falcons, who last played March 11, 2020, sweeping Central Methodist University’s JV team.
Then, the pandemic hit. COVID-19 forced NJCAA to halt its season. The Falcons were 3-7 at the time and were on a three-game winning streak.
Much has changed since then. Last year’s sophomores were offered the chance to return this season as no eligibility was expended. None returned, Wallach said.
Of last year’s freshmen, four have returned and will anchor the 13-player roster.
“We’ve got quality, not quantity,” Wallach said. “If we stay healthy, I think we can compete with anyone. We have most players working at more than one position. If we are missing a player or two, we are preparing to still compete and play well. Like everyone, we mainly want the chance to play and compete.”
Wallach also has a new assistant coach this season, Randy Viefhaus.
Viefhaus has a long history with youth softball. He was drafted in the third round of the 1970 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Montreal Expos out of Lafayette High School. Players drafted behind Viefhaus included Fred Lynn, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Dave Parker and Bruce Sutter.
He has been a longtime softball coach in the St. Louis area. All four of his daughters played NCAA Division I softball, three at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and one at Michigan.
“Randy will be a great addition,” Wallach said. “It will be the first time we’ve coached together in 19 years, after having coached our daughters together in summer ball throughout the 1990s.”
The four returners from last year’s team are Jenna Crider (Washington), Kaili Edler (Northwest), Kristyn England (Cuba) and Dan Kimminau (St. Francis Borgia Regional).
East Central’s rebuild starts in the circle, where all three pitchers are incoming freshmen.
The staff consists of Haley Schulte (Parkway West), Eva Dawson (Fulton) and Addie Konkel (Salem).
“(They) will all get the opportunity to pitch and we’ll see how it works out,” Wallach said. “If we stay healthy, we could have three starters, or two starters and one as relief.”
Behind the plate, Edler returns and she will be joined by freshmen Maddie Greco (Pacific) and Ashley Damazyn (Crystal City).
“All three will do a good job behind the plate and can play the corner positions if not catching,” Wallach said.
Edler, Kimminau and Schulte are expected to see time at first base.
Up the middle, Nikki Abbott (Incarnate Word Academy) and Crider are likely starters.
“Addie Konkel is solid at second base and could be there when not pitching,” Wallach said. “Lilly Prichard (Pacific) can easily come in from the outfield, if needed, and do a great job at either position, as well.”
Greco, Damazyn, Kimminau and Edler all can play third base.
“They are all capable of doing an excellent job,” Wallach said.
In the outfield, England and Kimminau are returning starters. Prichard, Kelly Ferguson (Timberland) and Caelie Horstmann (Owensville) also are looking for playing time.
“We have most players working at more than one position,” said Wallach. “If we are missing a player or two, we are preparing to still compete and play well. Like everyone, we mainly want the chance to play and compete.”
The home portion of the season is mainly early. The Falcons have eight home dates between March 3 and March 23 before hitting the road.
East Central will return home to host the NJCAA Division II Region 16 Tournament May 7-8.