BELMONT — Belmont softball coach Jeff Hodgson has high expectations for his veteran team.
The Braves return eight starters from last year’s conference championship team that went 20–8 and reached the WIAA Division 4 regional final before losing to eventual state runner-up Southwestern, including a fearsome one-two pitching combo and three three-year starters.
Senior outfielder/pitcher Paige Nolan is the two-time Six Rivers West Player of the Year after slugging 15 homers and driving in 87 runs and compiling a 36–13 record with a 2.46 ERA and 255 strikeouts over the past two seasons.
Sophomore pitcher/outfield Sadie Willborn burst onto the scene a year ago posting a 7–3 mark with a 2.21 ERA and 82 strikeouts in just 69 innings as a freshman. Willborn and Nolan will trade off between pitching an playing centerfield, giving Belmont perhaps the best returning pitching duo in this part of the state.
The Braves also return three-year starters in senior first baseman Caitlyn Gilberton, senior third baseman Maddie Rand, and junior second baseman Brianna Ernst.
Monday night, the Braves opened the season with a 5–1 non-conference victory over visiting Lancaster and Willborn and Nolan were front and center.
Willborn (1–0) started in the pitching circle and baffled the Arrows all game, throwing 68 of her 88 pitches for strikes. The sophomore right-hander went the distance, striking out 10 in seven innings and held Lancaster scoreless until sophomore Lindsey Wolf smacked a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning.
Nolan provided the bulk of the offense, going 2 for 3 with a walk, two runs scored and solo homer in the top of the third inning that gave Belmont a 2–0 lead. She singled to lead off the fifth inning, stole third and later scored on a passed ball.
Rand, who went 2-for-4 with a double in the game, led off the bottom of the first with an infield single, advanced to second on a passed ball, stole third and later scored on a fielding error. She also drove in a run with an RBI groundout in the sixth to make it 5–0.
Ernst scored on a wild pitch in the third inning after reaching on a walk. She also had a pair of singles in the game.
Freshman Brooklyn Connelly (0–1) took the loss for Lancaster, allowing five runs, three earned, on eight hits in six innings of work in her first varsity start. She struck out 10 and walked only one.
“She’s going to win some games,” said Belmont head coach Jeff Hodgson. “We left some runners on base, but she through some past us. She’s going to be a nice pitcher.”
Belmont (1–0) was scheduled to travel to Cuba City on Tuesday and will travel to Fennimore Thursday afternoon. The Braves will then travel to Platteville on Saturday before hosting Dodgeville on Monday.
“I am excited about our team” added Hodgson. “We have huge numbers with 21 kids out. I feel like we can accomplish a lot of things this year.”
Belmont 5, Lancaster 1
(from Monday, March 27 @ Belmont)
Lancaster 000 000 1 — 1 5 1
Belmont 102 011 x — 5 8 1
Leading hitters — B: Paige Nolan 2x3, Brianna Ernst 2x2. 2B — B: Maddie Rand, Lydia Leahy. HR — L: Lindsey Wolf; B: Nolan.
W — Sadie Willborn (1–0, 7IP, 5H, 1ER, 10K, 1BB). L — Brooklyn Connelly (6IP, 8H, 5 R, 3ER, 10K, 1BB).