Fastpitch: South Kitsap looks to overcome postseason woes

Senior Ericka Hobson served as the Wolves’ primary catcher last year when she was not on the mound, but she also could find herself at shortstop this year. - File photo
Senior Ericka Hobson served as the Wolves’ primary catcher last year when she was not on the mound, but she also could find herself at shortstop this year.
— image credit: File photo

She did not have to wait for an inquiry.

One of the first questions new South Kitsap fastpitch coach Tami Lester-Dame pondered after accepting the position was how to end the school’s drought of eight consecutive seasons without a state-playoff appearance?

The Wolves appeared close the last two years when they captured Class 4A Narrows League championships before foundering in the West Central District Tournament.

Lester-Dame hopes that can be remedied through a stiffer nonleague schedule.

While she was not able to line up any of the South Puget Sound League schools that derailed South’s last two seasons, Lester-Dame scheduled former Narrows rival Wilson for March 19.

The Rams, who now compete in 3A Narrows, advanced to state last year. Lester-Dame also scheduled a nonleague contest against Woodinville, which finished third in the 4A state tournament.

“We just have to be able to finish,” she said. “It seems like we’ve lost a little of that. I think every game should be as intense as a state championship.”

Senior Maile Keanu, who plays first base and outfield, feels the tougher nonleague schedule should benefit the team in the playoffs.

“It definitely helps,” she said. “We can get higher-caliber teams where we might lose, but we can learn from it.”

Just getting back to that point is not a certainty. In addition to the departure of longtime coach Kathy Ballew, who now guides the school’s girls track program, the Wolves graduated arguably their two best players from the 2011 squad that finished with a 17-5 record.

Standout pitcher Emilly Cunningham, who also played first base, and leadoff hitter Meagan Ransier both graduated and now compete at Bellevue College. Cunningham finished with a 12-5 record and 2.34 ERA last season. At the plate, she hit .378 with a .595 on-base percentage.

Ransier, who mostly played in center field in 2011, hit .474 with a .697 on-base percentage. She also led South in doubles (nine) and steals (four).

In addition to their departures, Lester-Dame said Tonya Forster, who started the last two years at third base, elected not to return for her senior season. Junior infielder Monique Mendiola also did not turn out.

“Those were two pretty big hits,” Lester-Dame said.

That means the Wolves will be a little more youthful this season than recent years, but Lester-Dame said she is excited about the composition of her roster. Junior first baseman Ashley Chamberlin was South’s No. 3 hitter last season.

The Wolves’ lineup also will include a couple of third-year starters with seniors Erika Henderson and catcher Ericka Hobson. The latter also is a right-handed pitcher and when she is on the mound, Lester-Dame said sophomore Ashley Gidican will catch.

“Ashley is an elite sophomore,” Lester-Dame said.

Gadican is one of several sophomores Lester-Dame expects to contribute this year.

“The seniors that we lost were replaced by some significant sophomores,” she said. “It’s just encouraging to see the sophomores come in.”

That could start on the mound, where Chamberlin, Henderson and Hobson return. Lester-Dame expects them to be pushed by sophomores Bailey Arnett and Paiten Fish.

“It will be a tough decision come time to figure out our ace,” she said. “We seem to have an encouraging number of pitchers.”

South features some experience throughout its lineup. In addition to Chamberlin, seniors Keanu, Erika Henderson, Ericka Hobson and Ashley Lockhart and junior Alissa Buss all have seen significant playing time.

Lester-Dame said Keanu could pair with Chamberlin to give the Wolves power.

“She’s a pretty solid bat,” she said of Keanu. “She’ll bring in some hits in the middle of the lineup for us.”

Buss and Henderson also figure to play in the infield, but Lester-Dame had not committed to which positions. She said Hobson and Gadican could share shortstop when the other is behind the plate.

The outfield is less certain. Only Lockhart appears to have solidified a starting spot. Keanu also could see time out there if Chamberlin ends up at first base.

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