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COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Minnesota West looking for improvement

WORTHINGTON -- Early in the season, the Lady Jays are improving.

Already 13 games into its softball campaign, Minnesota West is looking to get better every day.

"We're improving, that's what we're doing well," MW head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka said. "But now we're in the conference, so it's not time to be satisfied with improving, now is the time to take what we've learned and put it to use so we can get some wins."

The Lady Jays started their season with an eight-game trip in Florida.

"It's always a good thing to get games in," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "Our record doesn't exactly sparkle right now. The eight games in Florida are all against Division I (junior colleges) or four-year schools. That's the stinky part about going down there, you go 0-8 and when you start eight in the hole, it's pretty tough to even get to .500. But it's good to get those games in."

Returning to Minnesota, the Lady Jays had three games in the Irish Dome Tournament, where MW finished 1-2.

MW then started division play Monday, dropping a pair of games at Rochester, as the Lady Jays are currently 1-12.

"Every game we've had a disaster inning where we've had one crucial error which leads to a second, a third, a fourth and we can't stop the bleeding," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "It seems like we give up four, five or six runs in that inning. In most of our games, we've had at least one of those where we can't seem to get out of the inning. So that's a little frustrating."

After being in game situations, the Lady Jays are starting to come around at the plate.

"I think we're starting to hit it a little bit better," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "We hit the ball fairly decent, but we're not sparkling at the plate right now either. We have lots of work to do."

While errors have plagued MW early in the season, it hasn't all been bad.

"The errors are glaring, but we've actually done some pretty good things. GP (Vaske) is playing pretty well behind the plate," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "Our outfield does a great job of backing things up and we've been working on those kinds of things."

So far this season, Vaske has been a force offensively.

"She started coming around last year and she's always been a pretty good hitter," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "She's gotten better even in the last five games since we've been back up here. In Florida, she was a little bit feast or famine. She was a power hitter; she was either going to hit it out, or she was going to strike out. I don't think she's struck out since."

Already this season, the sophomore catcher has five doubles, two home runs and nine RBI.

"That's where our two leadoff hitters have to get on base because (Vaske) is hitting it every time now," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "That's the whole key; the top of our lineup has to get on base. We put a couple of people at 8 and 9 who should get on so we can keep that going for those guys.

"We keep telling them, 'You have to get on. I don't care how you get on. I don't care if you walk, lay down a bunt, step into a pitch, but put it in play.' We have speed at 8, 9, 1, 2 and we just keep harping to put it in play and run fast."

Ashley Kirk and Rachel Pavelko are in the lineup in front of Vaske, with Dani Jo Thorson hitting in the fourth spot.

"We've had a couple of games where our top two hitters have gotten on real well and GP and Dani Jo Thorson have done well at the 3 and 4 spots," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "Then at Rochester, our top of the order didn't get on. GP and Dani Jo still got some hits, but we have to get a little more consistent throughout our lineup."

Melanie Anderson returns as the top pitcher for the Lady Jays after throwing 104 innings last year.

Vaske has solidified her spot behind the plate, while Amanda Meyer (third), Kirk (shortstop), Pavelko (second) and Thorson (first) round out the infield.

Many players have rotated in the outfield, with Hayenga-Hostikka sill trying to find the right combination both defensively and offensively.

MW's home opener is slated for 3 p.m. Friday against Ridgewater.

The Lady Jays will then host Fergus Falls Saturday, beginning at noon, as they host all five home dates prior to April 14, creating a difficult schedule.

With a group of 14 players and six sophomores, Hayenga-Hostikka is hoping for a state tournament berth this season.

"With the squad that we have I want to qualify for the state tournament," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "We missed it last year, but here's the story of what happened last year. We lost nine games by one run. You take a 3-20 season and you could be 12-12 or 12-8 so easily. Our biggest key is to be in the top four in the Southern Division and qualify for the state tournament."