It's time for Andrego to be Cougars' team leader
Lily Andrego of Mankato East backhands a ground ball hit to her during practice in the East gym on Thursday. Andrego is the only senior on the Cougars softball team. Photo by Jackson Forderer
With all-state performers Torey Richards and Morgan Keim-Wolfe playing for defending NCAA Division II national champion Minnesota State, it’s senior shortstop Lily Andrego’s time to take center stage for the Mankato East softball team.
“Lily is our lone senior so we’re looking for her to provide a lot of leadership,” East coach Joe Madson said of his fifth-year starter. “Even as an eighth-grader, she showed leadership skills. She has a lot of confidence and is able to get through a mistake very quickly. She doesn’t let things bother her, be it a bad at-bat or a miscue defensively. She’s a player who wants to make the big play defensively and get the clutch hit offensively.”
Andrego put up some impressive numbers last season from her No. 2 spot in the batting order for the Cougars (15-9). Hitting between Keim-Wolfe and Richards, the energetic Andrego batted .372 with 15 RBIs and 22 runs scored to go along with a solid .920 fielding average.
“Lily has a cannon for an arm and really good hands,” Madson said. “She can play a little deeper than most shortstops because of that long throw across the diamond. She doesn’t let failure at the plate bother her, and she has come up with a lot of clutch hits over the years. She is able to hit good pitching and seems to rise a level against elite pitchers.”
Other top returnees for the Cougars include junior right fielder Makenzie Hendley, junior first baseman Brianna Adams, junior left fielder Madisyn Kozitza, junior center fielder Haley Stockman and freshman pitcher Maddie Clarke. Hendley, an all-city selection, carted a .338 batting average with three home runs, 22 RBIs and 15 runs scored.
“Losing Torey and Morgan is definitely tough because they were the veterans,” Andrego said. “But the young talent we have is going to push us forward and that’s nice for the future years as well.”
Adams hit .292 and drove in 14 runs, while Kozitza batted .304 with 23 RBIs and 20 runs scored. Stockman led the team with four home runs while hitting .280, driving in 14 runs and scoring 15 times.
Clarke, who spelled Keim-Wolfe on the mound, logged a 5-1 record and 3.25 earned-run average in 55 innings. She struck out 47 and walked 28.
“You can’t replace two five-year starters like Morgan and Torey,” Madson said. “But we have a lot of kids returning who have confidence and high expectations for themselves. This weather makes it tough to stay mentally tuned in. We’re a long way from where we want to be, but we’re hoping to work things out through April and then kick it in gear in May.”
Junior third baseman Hannah Bauman is also back, while a trio of newomers — freshman second baseman Taylor Swalve, seventh-grade catcher Peyton Stevermer and sophomore second baseman Ana Christofferson — are also expected to see some playing time.
Junior infielder Mia Makovsky, sophomore utility player Makenna Wassman, sophomore outfielder Sabrina Lehne and freshman catcher Maddie Giogowski complete the varsity roster.
“Being a captain for the second year is an honor and very humbling,” Andrego said. “I know the younger players look up to me so that makes me want to be a better leader and do things the right way. I like the confidence this team has. We definitely need to work on finding chemistry within each other. I think it’s always important to play as a team and with a lot of young girls, it’s hard to mesh right away. ... Once we find that chemistry, things will start growing and we’ll get things rolling without Torey and Morgan playing key roles.”
East plays a Big Nine Conference doubleheader Monday at the Rochester Dome, facing Rochester Mayo at 5 p.m. and Rochester John Marshall at 7 p.m.