The high school fastpitch season got underway last week with its first slate of regular-season games.
Emerald Ridge, Bonney Lake and Sumner are all coming off seasons in which they played in their respective state tournaments, and Rogers and Puyallup finished just a game or two shy of that level.
The following is a capsule look at how each of the teams from east Pierce County may fare this spring:
Head coach: Tony Batinovich, 22nd year
Last year: 16-9, advanced to the district tournament
Key players: Marissa Miller, P; Emily Ensrud, CF; Taylor Jellison, 3B; Kylie Perez, 1B/P.
Puyallup head coach Tony Batinovich, who has led the program since 1993, was inducted into the state Softball Hall of Fame this past February.
“The award is a testament to the long history of good assistant coaches, great parent support and outstanding young ladies who played softball at Puyallup High School,” Batinovich said.
This year’s team has experienced players to go along with a youthful roster.
Marissa Miller is a three-year starter and someone Batinovich called “a very good pitcher.”
“We have a very young group overall, but we have a great work ethic and are focused on reaching our goals,” the coach said.
Batinovich said he hopes the Vikings can finish in the top three in the Class 4A South Puget Sound League’s South Division and finish in the top seven at the district level to qualify for the state tournament in Spokane.
EMERALD RIDGE JAGUARS
Head coach: Derick Nelons, second year
Last year: 26-2, advanced to the Class 4A state tournament
Key players: Chelsey Hayes, P; Kayla Muche, SS; Tenli Petty, utility
Emerald Ridge was one of the favorites at last year’s state tournament, but they went two-and-out following an undefeated regular season.
Expectation levels haven’t dropped.
“Our goal is to win state,” head coach Derick Nelons said.
Pitchers Chelsey Hayes, Brooke Vandoren and McKenzie Hansen will take over in the pitching circle for Meagan Hendrix, who was one of two players to graduate last June.
“We will be a well-rounded team with sound hitting, pitching and defense,” Nelons said.
Head coach: Jacy Ramsey, 10th year
Last year: 14-11, advanced to district tournament
Key players: Tess Dixon, P; Rylee Whisple, C; Jessica O’Tool, P; Sydney Beckwith, INF; Maddie Jobe, CF; Kristin Johnson, P; Kelsey Breer, SS.
Rogers has relied on its camaraderie and attention to detail since Jacy Ramsey took over as head coach in 2005, and the Rams have had seven teams reach the 4A state tournament since.
Rogers was eliminated at the district level last season.
The Rams have just five seniors this spring, but Ramsey said they will be competitive.
“We have a ton of talent this year, and we have some serious speed in the outfield,” Ramsey said. “Outfield is one of the things I focus on the most as coach. I can’t tell you how many coaches neglect that aspect of the game, but for me, it’s an incredibly important piece of the defense.
“Knowing the fundamental skills, and knowing where you need to throw the ball in certain situations, makes a huge difference,” she said. “Different situations can pop up very quickly, and you don’t have much time to think about it. We strive to have great team chemistry and trust each other.”
Head coach: Megan Gaines, first year
Last year: Advanced to the 2A state tournament
Key players: Chloe Oyadomari, C; Jessica Stockdale-Pederson, OF; Jamie Lepper, SS; Kirstin Richmond, 1B; McKenna Eidal, P.
The Spartans reached the 2A state tournament last season but were eliminated after they lost their first two games.
First-year head coach Megan Gaines expects this year’s team to eclipse that performance.
“We believe we can be near the top of our league and plan on making it further in the state tournament,” Gaines said. “Our goal this season is to build off of each game and always improve. Our team is very vocal with each other, and they always want to see improvement out of their teammates and will let them know how to do it.”
Gaines said early practices have focused on situational plays.
“We have a lot of intelligence out on the field,” she said. “The girls are very aware of what every player should be doing in any given situation. It’s great as a coach, knowing that I could put almost any player in any position, and they will know what they are doing.
“Once we get our bats going, I believe our offense is going to be very strong,” Gaines added. “The girls can crush the ball but are also very capable of laying down the bunt when it is needed.”
BONNEY LAKE PANTHERS
Head coach: Andrew Sage, fifth year
Last year: 19-8, advanced to the 3A state tournament
Key players: Melissa Charron, P; Courtney Campbell, C; Madi Lowery, 1B; Morgan Mathiasen, 2B; Erika Torr, SS; Kali Shouteren, CF; Madi Adams, OF.
Experience will be one of the Panthers’ best strengths this spring as Bonney Lake’s senior class has played in three consecutive state tournaments.
“Our seniors have played in a lot of intense games over the last three years,” Panthers head coach Andrew Sage said. “They kind of bring their lunch pail, roll up their sleeves and get to work. We play in a very tough conference (SPSL 3A), and four of the 16 teams in the state tournament last year were from our conference.”
While Bonney Lake is focused on returning to state, it’s with a different kind of mentality that has worked for them during the previous three years.
“I know this is cliche, but we really focus on playing against our best self every game,” Sage said. “Our focus is the next pitch. Our girls have bought into the idea that nothing else matters except the next pitch.”