Girls look to surprise foes

Bryan Veginski

The Washington softball team hopes the experience its young players gained will help its fortunes in 2008.

The Lady Panthers had to press many underclass players into service as injuries decimated the squad during a 12-20-1 record last spring.

Washington still managed to go 6-8 in a tough Mid-Illini Conference and place fifth. It beat a Limestone team that went on to reach the Class AA Pekin Sectional final.

“The young kids survived and acclimated themselves pretty well,” said third-year WCHS head coach Greg Martin.

At various times, five starters were lost to injuries, causing a lot of athletes to get opportunities earlier than planned.

Senior Sara Hamilton, the girl with the most experience, headlines the list of Lady Panther returnees.

A center fielder, she will play women’s basketball and softball at Illinois Central College.

Hamilton was a second-team all-Mid-Illini choice in ’07 after hitting .362 with three home runs and a team-high 22 RBI.

“For her, I think that will work out well,” said Martin of Hamilton trying two sports as a Lady Cougar.

Sophomore Alli Thome, the niece of acclaimed Chicago White Sox slugger Jim Thome, is another outfield candidate.

She appeared in 27 games as a freshman and also could play first base.

Senior Jacy Little also is listed as an outfielder, and freshman Jennica Hipes can play anywhere except pitcher.

Dani Frye, a sophomore, lines up as the second baseman after taking part in 24 games a season ago.

Junior Jessica Martinez can play either shortstop or third base, and senior Kate Stinson is capable of handling either corner infield slot.

“We have a number of kids we can play in different positions,” said Martin.

Stinson will play softball next year at Spoon River College.

After an injury cut short her junior year, Martin said Stinson is throwing the ball well.

Alecia Lauss, a senior, will pitch and play the infield after appearing in every game in the previous campaign.

In the circle, Lauss was 6-6 with a 3.06 earned run-average in a team-leading 98 1/3 innings. She whiffed 66 batters.

Sophomores Heather Sweet and Taylor Brace also can pitch for Washington. Both can perform in the field as well.

Three candidates have emerged behind the plate. Junior Beaulea Lacey, Hipes and sophomore Charise Deatherage all could catch.

Lacey, who was involved in 27 games, drove in nine runs, the most of any returning player besides Hamilton.

Juniors Allison Canty and Sara LeBlanc also are part of the squad.

The only notable change in the ’08 Washington schedule is Moline, a Class 4A school in the new Illinois High School Association system, was dropped.

Martin expects Metamora, Limestone and Morton to head the list of Mid-Illini contenders.

Starting with a low profile, the Lady Panthers may be in a position to pounce.

“I think we’ll surprise some people,” Martin said.

East Peoria is the two-time defending champion, but with heavy graduation losses and other setbacks, does not appear at this point to be in the mix for an upper-division finish.

Sadie Conner, now at Valparaiso University, Kayla Johnson, Lauren Longfellow and Natalie Wetterauer are the key losses from last season’s senior class.

Conner, a Super 60 Classic selection, was off to an incredible start before suffering a devastating injury in the eighth game.

Johnson was a first-team all-league at-large honoree after pacing Washington with a .374 batting average and four homers to go along with 21 RBI.

She is now bowling for Robert Morris College.

Longfellow was a .255 batter while knocking in nine runs and Wetterauer collected 13 RBI and seven extra-base hits.

With participation numbers in the low 40s, a freshman-level team was added this year.

The Lady Panthers are hoping to put together a slate of 18-20 freshman games, a move that would help not only this year, but in the future as well.

Washington’s first contest is slated for tomorrow in Williamsville.