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Hope running high for Hillgals

Placer Softball Outlook
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Optimism has showered the Placer High softball field each spring over the past several seasons and this year is no different. But with a core of five talented seniors, a new coach and a competitive attitude, the Hillgals are determined to follow through on their potential. “We’re more of a team this year than in past years and our record showed we weren’t playing together,” Placer senior Taylor Hill said. First-year coach Doug Menefee has made believers out of the Hillgals. He knew some of the players from coaching the NorCal Patriots American Softball Association team and they prompted Doug to apply for job at Placer when former coach Don Scott did not return. The coach and players didn’t take long to get acquainted. Placer has won six of its first eight games, including a third place finish at the Davis tournament last weekend. The Hillgals lost in the semifinals to Davis after a potential game-winning Placer run was taken off the scoreboard on a controversial call at home plate. Placer went on to beat River City for third place. In the pitcher’s circle, Placer senior Jenna Knox is a veteran leader while Kaelin Amrein is a hard-throwing, skilled freshman. Menefee plans to rotate the two pitchers throughout the season. “They are a perfect contrast to each other,” he said. “Just when you get used to Jenna, here comes (Kaelin).” Senior Haley Tupen is on fire at the plate to start the year. The speedy center fielder is hitting .667 in eight games. She had two triples in an 11-2 win over Galt at the Davis tourney. Tupen said the Hillgals have a new outlook this spring and it’s already on display. “Everyone has been invigorated,” Tupen said. “Doug’s brought something new and I think we have a really good chance to do well. Playoffs would be a huge accomplishment for everyone here. It would mean a ton to us.” Hill also swings a big bat. The third baseman is headed to Simpson University to play softball next year, but she’s hoping to leave a mark at Placer, which has gone more than a decade since its last winning season. “I think we’re going to be a lot more competitive in the PVL than we have been the last couple of years,” Hill said. “We’re not afraid of Bear River and Lincoln, but we’re going to have to perform. If we don’t come out and perform, they’re going to beat us.” Juniors Kassidy Kosmata and Brooke Stufflebean are solid in the middle of the infield. Stufflebean, who had endured two knee injuries since her standout freshman year, is back at shortstop. Kosmata knocked in four runs in the win over River City. Senior Kailey Gaffney plays first base and junior Claire Hansen is a leader at catcher. Gaffney said the seniors, most of whom started their careers together as Little Leaguers, are highly motivated this spring. “We have full confidence that we can compete with the best teams in league,” Gaffney said. “We’re hoping to kick some butt.” In left field, senior Abby Kendall brings speed and a sure glove. On the other side of Tupen, junior Hailey Leggitt patrols right field. Menefee said he emphasized team unity early on in his tenure at Placer. “The biggest thing is that they become a family and that cliques are not a part of it,” he said. “And they’ve been great. These are some of the hardest working kids I’ve coached in 10 years of coaching softball.” Placer will begin play at the Jackson Lion’s Club Dandelion Classic today.