Sitting in the home team dugout behind third base, fastpitch coach Steve Nelson surveyed the scene in front of him with satisfaction.
“I’m really pleased with the support from the administration to upgrade the field and make it on a par with the other facilities here,” he said.
A new chain-link fence encloses the playing field. Piping overhead provides a framework to cover the dugouts. The backstop rises more than 10 additional feet into the air, and soon a 45-degree angle piece extending out over home plate will be installed.
With only a slight hint of exaggeration, Nelson said, “At seven dollars per ball, it’ll pay for itself. In one game last year, we lost nine balls into the blackberry patches.
“More important, kids will see that the school is serious about fastpitch. That will get more of them to turn out, and that can only benefit our program.”
With less than two weeks until the team travels to North Kitsap on March 12 to open the season, the fastpitch softball program appears to be in good shape, despite the graduation of last year’s dominating pitcher, Brooke Hilton.
“The team is better now than we were last year,” said Nelson, when the Spartans compiled a 10-11 record in his first year as coach. “The kids relied a lot on Brooke, which put a lot of pressure on her shoulders to carry them. This year, they’re more of a team, supporting each other.
“Defensively, we’re much better because we’re more experienced,” he said. “We’re smarter, stronger and faster.
“Our problem area last year was hitting. So we’re focusing a lot more attention on being better contact hitters, being more aggressive at the plate, putting the ball into play.”
To replace Hilton – the only player lost to graduation – he envisions somewhat of a committee approach, featuring sophomore Sara Robinson, junior Chrissie Haugen and senior Lizzie Greene.
“Sara has an excellent work ethic,” he said. “She has excellent control, especially of her off-speed pitches, and she got her speed up in the off-season. If she stays healthy, she should become a dominant pitcher in the next few years.”
Of Haugen, he notes that, after a summer of practice, “she throws as hard as Brooke ever threw.”
Nelson expects that the two will get most of the starts, though Greene – the staff’s Jamie Moyer, with “excellent off-speed stuff and ice water in her veins” – will see considerable action.
“Pitching-wise, we’re better than we were last year,” Nelson said. “Last year, with one pitcher, if she didn’t have a good game we were in trouble. Now we have three who are all part of the mix.”
In other other positions:
Catcher: Senior Amanda Perna is a four-year starter who’s already signed with St. Martin’s College in Lacey. “She’s very solid, an all-around seasoned player,” said Nelson. “We’re looking for her to be a team leader.” Junior Erin Hannon will also get a lot of playing time. “We brought her up from JV for district play last year because she has an outstanding bat,” Nelson said. “She had a key triple that helped us win a game.”
First base: Sophomore Ashley Anderson was the starter last year as a freshman. She’ll be backed up by senior Chelsea Magraw.
Second base: Senior Caiti Kruse missed most of last season with an injury. “It was very frustrating for her,” Nelson said. “But she appears to be healthy and hungry. She has a great glove.” Fellow senior Allison Vail – who also missed the majority of the season due to injury – is her backup.
Shortstop: sophomore Logan Mohr, the starter last year as a freshman, is back for another year. Junior Julia McComas, a JV last year, plays behind her.
Third base: Senior Angie Rapada “is a solid returning veteran,” said Nelson. McComas, the likely starter here next year, will provide support.
Left field: Senior Sarah Camiel is the starter, with Greene as her backup.
Center field: Haugen will start here when she’s not pitching. Last year’s Olympic League’s batting champ despite a slow start, Haugen is “a slap hitter with exceptional speed,” said Nelson. “She’ll bat leadoff and score a lot of runs.” Sophomore Alexis Hujar is in reserve.
Right field: Senior Bianca Quezada “played awesome out there,” said Nelson. She’ll split time with Magraw.
Nelson is optimistic about the Spartans’ chances in the Metro League, which doesn’t appear to be as strong in fastpitch as it is in sports such as basketball and soccer. No Metro teams even qualified for State last year.
“I know very little about (Metro), but I’ve heard that some teams are still in the developmental stages,” he said. “So we should dominate some games, while we’ll be in a dogfight in others. With the top six teams in Metro going to the District 2 tournament, we have a very good chance of going on.
“We’ll miss Brooke,” Nelson concluded, “but we should be okay. And if we get our hitting going, we should be really good.”
On the junior varsity team, coach Shaine Schramling is reasonably set at eight positions — except pitcher.
“We’ll be developing a pitcher,” she said, “or someone might come down from varsity to help out.”
Junior Kelli Menalia is the team’s catcher. Infielders include junior Katie Bateman, sophomores Nicole Brown, Jamie Callaham, Danielle Orrey and Carrie Parsons, and freshmen Sarah Braun and Amanda Szarzynski.
Outfielders are junior Meghan Bond, sophomores Amber Bond, Danielle Hansen and Dianna Rodriguez, and freshmen Kelsie Greene, Cassandra Richardson, Joan Talarico and Jennifer Wears.