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FASTPITCH PREVIEW | Wolves aim for loftier goals
The script has become stale for South Kitsap’s fastpitch team.
While the Wolves have advanced to the Class 4A state tournament in each of the last two seasons, they have only won one game during that span.
For South, which finished with an 18-7 record and won the 4A Narrows League last year, only advancing to state won’t be sufficient again this season. Not with coach Jessica Cabato entering her second season with the program. And not with seven seniors returning.
“The challenge this year is not having any letup — not letting my seniors get complacent,” Cabato said. “Just always remembering that we got to state but we want to do more there.
“I definitely think they’re hungry to do some more this year. They just signed a contract stating that if we’re going to state they’re not going to prom. They’re pretty dedicated. They were not satisfied with what we did last year. They know they have to work harder this year to get what they want.”
South will have to accomplish that with a different look this season. Standout shortstop and leadoff hitter Alissa Buss graduated and now plays at Linfield University in Oregon. The Wolves’ No. 2 hitter, outfielder Kayla Clauson, also graduated. Those departures mean South won’t be able to rely on speed as much this season.
“I can’t just bunt those two around,” said Cabato, laughing. “I have to change.”
That means being more reliant on power. The Wolves’ home field should be much more conducive to that this year as Cabato said senior first baseman and reigning 4A Narrows MVP Hannah Spohn’s father helped construct an outfield fence. While Cabato did not have specific numbers, she estimated that the fence reduced the home-run dimensions in some areas by as much as 80 feet. The former dimensions played out similar to a baseball field with the corners sitting around 300 feet from home plate.
“I think our fence will help her this year,” said Cabato, referring to Spohn.
Spohn, who plans to play next season at Washington College in Maryland, is projected to hit in the middle of the lineup again this season. She is likely to be surrounded by a returning cast, including seniors Chelsea Foster (outfield) and Tessah Tremper (third base) and juniors Drew Camacho (catcher), Shelby Reyes (outfield) and Hayley Romo (shortstop).
But Cabato is not guaranteeing those positions. She said sophomores Lizzy Tengle and Daniel Thiele have been impressive and could vie for playing time or even starting positions.
“They’re competing for spots along with our seniors,” Cabato said. “Last year we had a couple of spots where there wasn’t any competition. Having that makes everyone better.”
On the mound, the Wolves have had two players who have pitched the majority of innings during the last five years. But Ashley Chamberlin, who succeeded Emilly Cunningham as South’s starter in 2012, graduated. That leaves senior Maddy Watson as the team’s primary starter.
“It’s hard to win if you don’t have a strong pitching staff, but I think we’re going to do fine this year,” said Spohn, who also is expected to pitch along with senior Kira Stanley. “Maddy is a great pitcher and she’s going to get a lot of mound time this year.”
That style of pitching places an importance on infield defense. Romo moves from second base to shortstop to replace Buss, a move Cabato thinks she is equipped to handle.
“She is an outstanding athlete,” she said. “She is throwing a lot harder and her range has increased. She’s ready to fill those shoes.”
The Wolves do not have much time to get prepared as league play begins Wednesday at Central Kitsap. Spohn said they are ready.
“This year we have great camaraderie with the team and the coach,” she said. “I think the team dynamic is going to be great and it’s going to help us win games because we’re going to have so much fun together.”
Cabato believes the transition this season will be easier because several players are returning in her second season as coach. In comparison, Chamberlin and other members of last year’s senior class played for three different coaches at South.
“It’s nice because the kids that have been with you know your expectations,” Cabato said. “It definitely strengthens the culture you’re trying to build when you’ve had people with you before.”