Softball team young, but versatile

Bryan Veginski

The Washington softball team is working its way back with some talented younger classes on the horizon.

The Lady Panthers will see how some of the up-and-coming talent translates at the varsity level in 2009 with six freshmen or sophomores on the roster.

Some of the players already were pressed into service as Washington has been decimated by injuries the last two years.

“We have young kids, but some have very good experience,” WCHS head coach Greg Martin said.

The Lady Panthers were 9-25 in ’08 and shared sixth place in the Mid-Illini Conference with a 4-10 record.

Gone from that team are first-team all-conference outfielder Sara Hamilton, second-team all-league infielder Kate Stinson and No. 1 pitcher Alecia Lauss.

Hamilton led Washington with a .337 average and 18 extra-base hits, including four home runs.

Stinson was a .326 batter and shared the top spot with Hamilton by knocking in 18 runs.

Lauss recorded seven wins with a 4.13 earned-run average and worked 156 of the squad’s 207 1/3 innings.

“We lost a lot with those three seniors,” said Martin, “but we have a lot coming in.”

Martin, who is in his 40th year of coaching overall, said Washington’s pitching should be adequate with four options.

Juniors Heather Sweet and Taylor Brace, sophomore Montana Simmons and freshman Paige Ely all will get a chance in the circle.

In the Lady Panthers’ first two games, at home against Williamsville and East Moline, respectively, the plan is for the juniors to throw the first four innings and the younger pitchers to finish the last three.

That way each righthander will get a display her skills early in the season.

Martin reports multiple players can handle more than one position, giving Washington flexibility.

With a really good freshman class and the eighth graders behind them also strong, Martin said things look on the upswing for Lady Panther softball.

Depending on how well this year’s group adapts to a demanding schedule that could feature as many as 15 teams ranked in one of the classes of the Illinois Coaches Association preseason state poll, the turnaround could begin this spring.

In the infield, every position has players competing for starting jobs.

Junior Alli Thome and two others are candidates at first base.

In limited at-bats, Thome hit .289 as a sophomore.

Junior second baseman Dani Frye is being pushed by a couple other players.

With 10, Frye was one of five players a season ago to reach double digits in the RBI column.

Simmons is doing a good job at shortstop, but others also are seeking an opportunity there.

Senior Jessica Martinez is back at third base after being sidelined with a broken ankle.

Jennica Hipes, a sophomore, is looking to take over Hamilton’s post in center field.

Hipes paced Washington as a freshman with 11 stolen bases and 21 runs. She added 13 extra-base hits, 11 RBI and batted .286.

Sarah Misselhorn, a sophomore, is a left-field possibility.

Several athletes are vying for time in right field.

Senior Beau-Lea Lacey and junior Charise Deatherage are catching candidates.

They combined to drive in 18 runs last year.

The rest of the Lady Panther roster includes: senior Allison Canty, junior Sam Little and freshmen Emily Heuerman and Katie Megyesi.

“I’m as happy with this group as any I’ve had,” Martin said.

Limestone is the ICA’s No. 1 ranked 3A team, and the Rockets seem to be the prohibitive favorite coming off a state championship without losing many players.

As a reflection of how strong the Mid-Illini is, Limestone finished just third in the conference race before marching to the top spot in Illinois.

Last year’s league co-champions, Morton and Metamora, figure to be solid again, and East Peoria is rated No. 14 in the preseason.

Washington has three games in five days to open the season. Seven of its first eight dates are at Jan Smith Field.

“We’ve got to see what we do under fire,” said Martin.

Streator and Eureka are new to the non-conference schedule. The Lady Panthers again will host the Panther Classic and round-robin tournaments on consecutive weekends, beginning this year in May.

Softball fans are reminded to check the Web site www.wacohi.net under the softball header for schedule updates when the weather is iffy.

With its rich softball tradition, it will not be long before Washington is a contender again.