HANNIBAL – Bre Gonzalez is over the heartbreak.
Her first three seasons with the Hannibal softball team have all ended in the Class 3 district championship games. The last two times have been one-run losses, and the most recent was a 2-1 loss to St. Dominic.
After each time, especially in a one-run game, the bitter feeling comes back. The Pirates don’t want that again this season.
"We’re tired of it," Gonzalez said "We know we can win it. This year we think we have a pretty good team and can get through that."
Hannibal loses five senior starters from a team that went 9-11 and 6-4 in the North Central Missouri Conference a year ago, which includes the battery of pitcher Taylor Wilson and catcher Hailey Whittaker. Middle infielder Josie Zeiger, who led the Pirates in hitting the last two seasons, is also graduated.
However, the Pirates return several players with experience to fill in those vacancies made by graduations. Junior Taylor Simms will move from third base to her more natural spot at catcher, while the infield will be littered with experience like Avery Lake and Emille Wilson, while Maggie Woodside will be in the outfield.
Sophomore Kyle McAfee will be called upon to lead in the circle.
"We’ve got a lot of people that have some varsity experience or capable of filling in the spot," second-year Hannibal coach Andrew Pollard said. "We’re going to be young, but we’re not too concerned with them. I’m excited to see because it’ll be a different dynamic to this team."
While young, Pollard likes the speed this year’s team possesses. The Pirates didn’t have the kind of speed in his first season, and he wants to utilize that as much as possible this season.
"We’ll be able to get some extra bases and go first to third," Pollard said. "We won’t have to rely on the extra-base hits and home runs anymore. We can still get those, but we can move around the bases more with that speed that we have up and down the lineup."
The Pirates even have a goal in mind to break the program’s record for steals in a season, which is more than 90.
"We want that record," Gonzalez said. "We think we can do that because we have really fast people."
That aggressive base running can produce more runs. That’s what the Pirates are hoping to do after scoring only 10 or more runs in a game three times last season.
"We need more runs," Simms said. "We really lacked that last year. We need those hits with running in scoring position. We’re a lot faster this year than we have been in the past."
The Pirates will look to move runners around not just with stolen bases, but small ball and more running to first to third on hits. That kind of aggressive base running can put pressure on a defense into making mistakes.
If those things go Hannibal’s way, a fourth straight district title game appearance is possible.
Pollard believes the talent is there to win it.
"I think going into it and knowing what we graduated, I think we can be in the same spot," Pollard said. "I still feel that way now because I know what other teams have lost and what they have. I think we can battle for a conference championship and a district championship in October, and I know that’s what these girls want."