DE PERE After the top of the first inning Monday, Green Bay Preble already had a 2-0 lead and with Anna Conard in the circle the Hornets felt really good about their chances to stay undefeated in conference play.However, the rest of the game was a struggle. Conard didn't have all her pitches working like usual and the offense was struggling.Be that as it may, Preble figured a way to persevere against De Pere and held on for a 3-1 softball win in Fox River Classic Conference action."We really weren't sharp," Preble coach Ron Metzler said. "We're happy to win these games in a tough league. Our hitting is clearly a staple and wasn't there. We have the best pitcher around and today she might not have been. We were just really fortunate."Added Conard: "We knew they were big competition for us in the conference, but we came out ahead."Conard struck out nine and scattered seven hits, and for six innings held De Pere without a run. But in the bottom of the seventh, the Redbirds scored once and had runners on first and second base with two outs.Conard, who will pitch at UW-Whitewater next year, managed a strikeout to end the game and said it's a matter of trusting herself in big moments."I just have to stay confident and I have to trust my pitches will come through for me," she said."She's such a good pitcher," Metzler said. "She was mentally tough. Anna battled."Conard, the co-FRCC player of the year last year, delivered a run-scoring hit and is a big reason Preble is expected to contend for the FRCC crown it won last year at 15-1.But she has help. Third baseman Payton Sampson was an all-conference catcher last season and sophomore Kaylen Krueger has made herself at home at shortstop and has five homers in four league games, including one Monday.Metzler expects the FRCC to be a battle with the likes of Ashwaubenon and Bay Port, amongst others, but likes his team, too. Winning last year gives the Hornets a level of confidence they didn't have a year ago."These kids have worked so hard," Metzler said. "Now that they proved they could last year, there might be more confidence this year. In my opinion we're a good six-deep in this conference. The next five could beat us any day of the week."I think last year's records of 15-1, 14-2 and 13-3 will be the same this year, I just don't know which team is which."Preble (5-1, 4-0) is one of three undefeated teams in conference play (Bay Port and Ashwaubenon are both 2-0) and Conard said she hopes the path to another conference title is actually a challenge. She also has ideas about a bigger goal."We had a very good team last year, lost two seniors, but gained K.K.," Conard said of Krueger. "I think we're in a very good position."I like the tough schedule. If it was handed to you, it doesn't feel like you earned it. I think going to state would be better, but conference is always good."Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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