Girls Varsity Softball · The ceiling is high for young Hawks squad

How good is Hebron’s talented freshman group?
With just a handful of upperclassmen on the roster,  Craig Doelling is going to find out right away.
“We’ve been successful with this group in middle school,” the Hawks coach said. “We knew we had a lot of incoming freshmen who play year-round. This is what they do. I can’t take credit for that. It’s going to be a similar situation next year. I really think we should be competitive. People who know us, there’s a lot of hype around them. Now they’ve got to produce. We’re a small school. We don’t get a lot of times when you have eight or nine athletes come in like this. I went to Hebron. I came through with one of those classes. I think there are going to be people surprised by what we bring onto the field.”
Doelling is starting as many as seven freshmen, counting the designated player flex position.
“They’re really coming in testing the waters,” he said. “We lost them for about a year-and-a-quarter (with no 2020 season). They’ve all been on separate teams, so we’ve got to get them back into a team environment. Obviously, they know each other very well. It makes for a very competitive environment. A lot of kids are going to fuel off each other. It’s going to be a big learning curve. We’ll see how the freshmen respond. The proof will be in the pudding. I’m pretty confident. I think they’re all very capable. We will have a lot of hurdles as we go through this, but they’re aggressive, they’re hungry.”
That’s an ideal demeanor for Doelling, who prefers to play an up-tempo style that doesn’t always follow the ‘book.’
“It’s easier to teach somebody to settle down than to bring out that animal (instinct),” he said. “If they come in with that drive and desire, it’s easier to say, hey, we’ve got to calm down a bit. We’re going to live and die by our aggressive plays. We’ve got strong arms. We want to be that team that’s going to throw. Obviously, we instruct, give them guidelines, but every batter doesn’t need to bat the same. We capitalize on the attributes that work for them. We tell them they need to make decisions in a game on the fly, not just hearing coach yell, you’ve got to go do that. A thinking player is more powerful.”
The youth movement starts in the circle for Hebron with pitcher Brooke Cunningham.
“I think Brooke will do pretty darn well,” Doelling said. “Again, she’s young. She’s got to dive into it. They’ve been playing kids maybe a year or two older than them. They’ve got to come to the realization that they could be playing against 18-year girls who could be playing college softball next year who are well-versed in this.”
Rebecca Gill, the Hawks’ sole senior and captain, can play several spots.
“She’s a super positive kid,” Doelling said. “They’re all good kids. Some are multi-sport athletes. They all work hard, but her work ethic, she’s just past that.”
There’s a trio of juniors in Meadow Fornuto, Bella Bowgren and Maddie Patrick with two sophomores, Abbi Anderson and Hailey Perkins. Fornuto, primarily a shortstop, and Bowgren, the regular first baseman, were starters in 2019. The balance of the lineup will be freshmen with Avery Chopps, Molly Friel (third), Maddy Heck (second) and an outfield of Halie Kinkade, Heidi Pena and Emily Michalak.
“I believe we will be a strong hitting team, top to bottom,” Doelling said. “I think we’re going to be equally as strong defensively. I believe we have the best outfield in the (Porter County Conference) if not more than that. We’ve got strong bats, good speed. Depending on the game situation, we can flip into mode. We can play small ball or we can play long ball. We have four, five girls who can absolutely take the ball out of the park. The ones who are more contact also are our speedsters. I think we will steal a lot of bases. Softball’s a quick sport. I told them we want to be a very dynamic team.”
Hebron lost its first two games to Highland and Illiana Christian, but after not getting to play last year, Doelling’s just happy to be back on the field.
“We start out with a pretty tough schedule,” he said. “This is the time of year I don’t sleep well. I’m ready to go. You can only do so much work inside. You’ve got to get outside, see what we really need to focus on. I’m looking forward to getting going.”