The Cooper softball team entered the 2017 season knowing its first three games on the schedule might just be its three hardest games of the season.
The Hawks opened the season with a 19-0 loss to defending Class 4A state champion Chanhassen, before falling 10-3 to Benilde-St. Margaret’s, a perennial tough team in the Metro West Conference. Cooper played Jefferson, a top-15 team in the state, April 18.
Despite the 0-2 start, Cooper head softball coach Erin Brown saw her team take some positive strides against Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
“[The loss to Chanhassen] was just rough all around, but today some of us started to settle in to our positions,” Brown said. “We have a very inexperienced group and we have a handful of girls playing out of position, so this year could be interesting in many different ways.
“The girls we’re bringing up are slowly starting to fall into their positions, doing what we want them to be doing. Today was progress in the right directions, but I still feel places we need to work on and get into a comfort zone with.”
Benilde-St. Margaret’s opened the scoring with a two-run first inning before Cooper was even able to grasp a bat. Sophomore Laura Beaner and senior Rae Beaner hit one-out singles and advanced on a ground ball to stand at second and third base with two outs for sophomore Emma Fretag, who hit a two-run double to tie the game.
“That at bat was huge because we were down and that got us back up,” Laura Beaner said. “It brought our energy back up and helped us get back in the game.”
The Cooper offense cooled down considerably after that first inning, and a solo home run by Ally Adams provided the Hawks’ only run over the final six innings.
“I think people wanted to get up and hit a home run,” Rae Beaner said. “I don’t know if everyone is as comfortable in the box as they could or should be, but we’ll work on hitting.”
Brown agreed that the Hawks will have to work on hitting in upcoming practices.
“We got a little complacent, honestly,” Brown said. “I feel like we should have been much more aggressive at the plate, smart and disciplined aggressive.
“I think some of our girls were not focused, that’s what we talked about after the game. When we go into the box we have to make sure we have a plan, we’re focused and we know what we’re trying to do.”
“They need to look at at-bats as being limited and they have to take advantage of each one of them,” Brown added. “I don’t think we took advantage of all of our at-bats, so hopefully with a little more practice and with some experience we will figure out how to do that.
“I hope the older girls lead the way with that.”
Laura Beaner took the mound for the Hawks, and put together a solid outing, despite the loss.
“[Laura] was much better on the mound today than she was Tuesday,” Brown said. “Tuesday she was all over the place and missed a lot of spots, while today she honed her stuff in, it was at least reachable, she had a couple of nice strikeouts and she had a nice couple of pitches called.
“Overall she was much more solid in the circle today.”
Beaner said after the game that hitting her spots and changing speeds were key to her success.
“I felt pretty good,” Laura Beaner said. “The first inning was kind of rough, but I got in a groove and started feeling good.
“They were all crowding the plate and the ump kept giving me the inside corner, so I kept going there.”
With a young team, there are three sophomores, six juniors and one senior on the varsity roster, Brown knows there will be an adjustment period for many of her first-year varsity players.
“At this point on varsity we have 10 girls with us,” Brown said. “We have so much youth in the whole program that the next chunk of girls that are that much more inexperienced, so we won’t bring up a ton of kids.
“We are 90 percent pretty good, and with the 10 percent, not necessarily the positions, we’re going to be staying within the 11 throughout the season.”
The Hawks will look to secure their first win of the season against Richfield at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at Cooper High School.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.