Although the summer sports season was shortened by fear of the coronavirus spreading, it still happened and Union area players took advantage of it.
The best of those small school players in the area have been named to the 2020 All-Union small school softball team.
If this were an actual team, a state championship would be a sure bet. Pitching and hitting are the hallmarks of this year’s squad.
It is a balanced team as far as age, but upper classmen dominate as there are five seniors, five juniors, a sophomore, a freshman and even an eighth-grader.
Coach: Mark Chiri, New London
It was a wild year for the New London softball team. The Tigers finished 9-7 overall and 4-2 in conference play, and made it further than any other Union area small school in the postseason.
Led by Coach Chiri, New London went on a regional tournament tear. The Tigers ripped Holy Trinity 11-1 in the opener and then upset both Winfield-Mt. Union and North Mahaska on their own fields to get to the regional final.
The Tigers were eventually beaten by Lynnville-Sully in the regional final, falling one game short of a state tournament berth.
Captain: Madie Anderson, Junior, Winfield-Mt. Union
If a person went to a W-MU softball game this summer, you probably didn’t see the visiting team putting any runs on the scoreboard because Anderson was dominant in the circle.
Anderson had another unbelievable year, ending 2020 with a 0.51 earned run average and a 0.62 walks and hits per inning pitched, one of the best resumes in the state of Iowa. Just six earned runs were scored against her. She went 7-5 in the circle and struck out a crazy amount of batters totaling 150, pitching every single inning (82 total) for the Wolves this season.
Anderson wasn’t bad at the plate, either. She was third on the Wolves with a .289 batting average and finished the year with three home runs, a double and a team-leading eight RBIs.
Pitcher: Chelsey Huff, junior, Van Buren County
It was hard to handle VBC’s junior star this season, whether she had a ball or a bat in her hands.
In the pitcher’s circle, Huff had a 2.62 ERA with a team-leading 53 strikeouts. At the plate, Huff shredded, hitting .566 with three doubles, a triple and 14 RBIs.
Pitcher: Kassidy Verrips, senior, Cardinal
The Cardinal softball team used a trio of hurlers in 2020 but nobody slung it better than Verrips.
The senior finished the season with a 1.72 ERA and 62 strikeouts. She had a 4-1 final record as a starter and gave up just 13 earned runs all year.
At the plate, Verrips hit .424 with two doubles and five RBIs.
Catcher: Rylee Vercande, sophomore, Mid-Prairie
Playing in the tough River Valley Conference, Vercande led her team in batting average at .362, which was 18th in the RVC.
Vercande had an OBP of .400. She connected on two doubles, a triple and a home run. She struck out just three times this season. She led the Golden Hawks in runs, hits, and stolen bases.
She was 12th in the league in putouts and made three errors all season for a fielding percentage of .953.
Infield: Sarah Burton, eighth grade, Highland
For an eighth-grader to start varsity is quite an accomplishment. To excel the way Burton did says something about her talent.
The Huskies shortstop committed only five errors this season in the field.
Burton’s batting average of .457 was seventh in the North. She was fourth in the league in stolen bases.
Infield: Lexi Jirak, senior, Van Buren County
The only senior on the VBC softball team had herself a fantastic final season.
Jirak hit .448 this season with 13 RBIs, five doubles, three triples and the biggest home run of the season. Jirak’s solo homer in the top of the seventh in the regional tournament win over Cardinal was the highlight of the season for the VBC girls.
Infield: Isabel Manning, junior, Van Buren County
Any Warrior sports fan knows Manning is one of the best athletes at Van Buren County High School and she showed that again with a fantastic 2020 softball season.
Manning hit .433 at the plate this year and launched a team-leading five home runs. She also ended the year with six doubles and 14 RBIs.
Infield: Allison Bainbridge, junior, Pekin
The Panthers’ shortstop, Bainbridge handled a large percentage of missiles and had only five errors this season. She led the North in assists.
Bainbridge had a batting average of .364 which was 14th in the North and her OBP was .404. Bainbridge struck out a total of three times in 44 at bats. She tied for fifth in the North in stolen bases. She was third in triples.
Outfield: Dani Laughlin, freshman, Highland
Laughlin was a speedster who patrolled center field for the Huskies and seemed to always get to a batted ball. She made one error this season.
Laughlin had the best batting average in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference North Division, connecting at a .600 clip. She also had more stolen bases than any other North player at 21. She was fourth in total hits and in runs, both stats behind three Louisa-Muscatine players who played more games. Her eye for the right pitch was selective as she only struck out three times.
Outfield: Maddie Cloke, senior, Cardinal
Cardinal’s Cloke could be called a utility athlete, shining in all three of the sports she participated in 2020, but she polished her senior year off with a great season on the diamond.
Cloke led the team with a .418 batting average, hit four doubles and a home run, and led the team with 6 RBIs.
Outfield: Kara Krieger, senior, New London
New London’s senior center fielder proved to be the Tigers’ most dangerous hitter in 2020.
Krieger led New London with a .395 batting average, six doubles, two triples and 14 RBIs. She provided a big boost to the middle of the Tigers lineup and will be sorely missed by New London when the Tigers take the field next summer.
Utility: Addison Sprouse, senior, Keota
Sprouse was behind the plate for the Eagles this season and was one of just two seniors on the roster for Keota.
Swanson was effective in the batter’s box, leading the Eagles with a batting average of .345. She led the Eagles in hits and runs batted in.
Utility: Hannah Lucas, junior, Pekin
Lucas was the Panthers center fielder. She batted in the No. 9 position for the Panthers and excelled at that spot. She reached base all three times in Pekin’s postseason loss to West Branch.
Lucas finished ninth in the North in batting average at .381 and had an OBP of .447. She tied for fifth in the North in stolen bases.