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2012's top pitcher Brooke Pantila (4-4, 3.57 ERA) returns to the Royals this season.

2013 Spring Preview: Woodbury softball team looking for help from talented sophomores

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The Royals are hoping a new crop of youngsters and fresh faces will reinvigorate a squad that coach Bob Samson said underperformed a season ago.

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"We didn't play anywhere near our potential," he said of the 2012 team.

What this season has in store is a bit of a mystery - through last week, the late spring has limited the Royals to indoor-only practices - though Samson is optimistic his team can improve on last year's 5-15 record.

"We've got a fresh start," the coach said.

In addition to returning starters, he's hoping some underclassmen can make an immediate impact on the field.

"We've got a real nice bunch of sophomores," Samson said.

Tenth graders Eleanor Blanchfield, Melissa Johnson, Katherine Swedenborg and Madison Yochum will join a team led by senior captains Jamie Reetz and Kate Shea. Other seniors returning include 2012's top pitcher Brooke Pantila (4-4, 3.57 ERA), Anna Torgerson (.375 batting average) and Heather Shumaker.

The Royals graduated 10 seniors in 2012, including Josie Ryan, Samantha Kosel and Alex Benedict - all among the team's top batters.

"That's a big hit," Samson said of the 2012 seniors.

Now he turns to a new slate of players looking to make noise in the Suburban East Conference. Samson said he's expecting Pantila and junior Caitlin Balsimo to anchor his pitching staff. Both pitchers have been throwing hard in practice, he said.

The Royals' outfield corps will include Shea, who has signed on to play college ball at Bemidji State University.

The team will be concentrating on fundamentals like defense and pitching, but "we have to find out who our good hitters are," Samson said.

He's expecting Shumaker and Torgeson to be solid replacements at the catcher position for Benedict, who is playing Division I softball at the University of Northern Iowa.

"We need some pop out of their bats as well," Samson said. "After that, we're going to have to wait and see who we have."

He expected 2012 Class AAA champion Stillwater to be a force in the SEC and in Section 4AAA. Forest Lake, another team that reached state in 2012, should also be among the conference leaders, Samson predicted.

"We have the toughest conference in the state," he said.

Weather permitting, the Royals open the season Wednesday, April 3, in a road game against Eastview. Suburban East play begins the following week, starting with a home game versus Forest Lake on April 8.

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