WALES — For a senior veteran, Kelsey Collins is adjusting to a couple new roles this season.

She was a junior all-conference player on the Mountain Valley Conference champions from Oak Hill last spring. Instead of picking up where she left off a year ago, Collins is changing things up.

A year later, she’s not only adapting to playing third base full-time but also settling in as the Raiders’ new cleanup hitter. As just one of two seniors on the team, she’s having to step up her game to lead a young Oak Hill club as well.

“Kelsey does a lot of leadership by example,” said Oak Hill coach Allyson Collins. “She stays cool. She stays calm. She stays collected. Good, bad or indifferent. If she makes a mistake or she makes the best play in the world, she’s the same. She doesn’t let stuff get to her.”

That was an important presence for the Raiders early this season when Oak Hill started the year 0-4. Since then, the Raiders have won four straight and moved up into seventh in the Western B standings.

“I figured we’d be a strong team,” Kelsey Collins said. “We lost a pitcher and we lost a catcher, but I knew what we had coming up would be strong. So I wasn’t worried about it at all.”

Oak Hill had six starters returning but only five of them are upperclassmen. Collins and second baseman/pitcher Lauren Beganny are the only seniors. Of the four regulars that were lost from last season were the team’s pitcher, catcher and shortstop. That has forced a number of players to settle into new roles and positions, including Collins.

“They’re really picking it up and showing what upperclassmen should do,” Allyson Collins said about her seniors. “Our juniors are doing the same. Our juniors and seniors are doing a great job leading. I think they’re just more comfortable in their roles. They didn’t have to play such big roles last year because our seniors were just that good. They could lie back and depend on them. They’ve taken those roles and run with it.”

In addition to Beganny pitching, junior Sadie Goulet is stepping into the circle. Outfielders Kayla Veilleux, another MVC all-star last year, and Iris Abbott are the only other upperclassmen.

Sophomore Grace Sabine has filled the job at first while classmate Brooke Surette is at short. Sophomores  Sara Noel and Jamie Prue return to the outfield while freshman Emma Hlister is new behind the plate.

Playing third is nothing new for Collins. She split between first and third last year. She’s getting used to it being a full-time position this year.

“I played a little bit of both last year,” Kelsey Collins said. “It’s kind of new but not really new. It was kind of an old position.”

In the batting order, she was the lead-off hitter last year but has moved down the order. That brings with it some added responsibility.

“That was a big change this year,” she said. “It feels like a lot more pressure than last year. At the same time, I have everybody behind me, too. So it’s not just me. So I don’t feel much pressure.”

Collins led the team in hitting last year, batting .400. Because of her consistency in the lead-off spot, a move to the clean-up role made sense.

“She was one of our best hitters last year,” Allyson Collins said. “We had her in the top spot because she was consistently hitting singles. She’s going to get on base no matter what. Her on-base percentage was off the charts. This year, as a senior and someone who continually gets on base and has the definite power, we need her to step up. She’s done that.

“She still gets the singles. It’s perfect for us. It doesn’t matter whether she gets a single for us or knocks it into the gap. It means a run for us and another runner on base.”

She also brings a confidence to her job and that is spreading throughout the team.

“When she’s up to the plate, she’s very calm and like ‘Alright, I’ve got it Coach,'” Allyson Collins said.

The Raiders lost their first four games by an average of just 2.5 runs. Since then, Oak Hill has scored 53 runs in four games and allowed just 10. That included rallying from behind in the bottom of the seventh to beat Lisbon last week.

With everyone swinging a hot bat, that makes it easier for Collins.

“I just have really strong hitters behind me,” she said. “So I know the weight isn’t on my shoulders.”

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