Fastpitch: South Kitsap hoping to build off winning ’09 campaign

Key returners: C/3B Bridjet Box, sr.; RHP/OF Emily Bricks, jr.; RHP/OF Emily Cunningham, jr.; OF Meghan Houston, sr.; OF Janelle Howard, sr.; SS Holly Lider, jr.; 1B Alexis O’Dell, jr.; C/3B/OF Meagan Ransier, jr.

Top newcomers: 3B/1B Tonya Forster, soph.; RHP Erika Henderson, soph.; RHP/C Ericka Hobson, soph.; OF Ashley Lockhart, soph.

Key departures: 2B Brandy Ball, graduated; OF Cortney Echternach, graduated; RHP/OF Sam Jacobs, graduated; 3B Ally Johnson, graduated; SS/OF; C/1B Trish Tremper, sr.

Small turnouts have created depth issues within South Kitsap’s fastpitch program in recent years.

But as her team opens its season Monday at Gig Harbor, coach Kathy Ballew hopes she has found a way to counteract that to some extent.

Versatility has become a theme for the Wolves as many players have the ability to play more than two positions.

“The more you can do, the better,” Ballew said. “I’ve always praised it.”

That begins with some of South’s top returning players. Meagan Ransier, who had a team-high .523 batting average during the 2009 regular season and added eight doubles and five triples, can play catch, third base and outfield.

Senior Bridjet Box also returns after hitting .354 and adding 16 RBI last year. She played second base for most of 2009 with Brandy Ball out because of an injury, but Ballew said Box will see more time at catcher and third base this year. Ally Johnson, who now plays at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, held the latter position last season. Sophomore Tonya Forster also might fill that role.

No matter which players are on the field, Box feels confident about the Wolves’ fielding prowess.

“We’re really good defensively,” she said.

South, which finished with a 13-7 record last year, has had quality depth at catcher in recent seasons with athletes such as Caty Lieseke, who now plays at Whitworth University, and Trish Tremper.

“We’re really deep there again,” Ballew said. “You can’t have too many of those. (Playing catcher) takes a toll, so it helps when you can rotate players.”

Two other infield mainstays from a year ago, seniors Holly Lider and Alexis O’Dell, also return. Ballew said Lider likely will play shortstop, but she is able to play several positions, while O’Dell will start again at first base. Ballew said junior Emily Brooks likely will play second base when she is not on the mound.

The outfield is less settled. Cortney Echternach, who had a team-high .711 on-base percentage last season, has graduated. Junior Emily Cunningham could fill one position when she is not pitching.

Ballew also mentioned seniors Janelle Howard and Meghan Houston and sophomore Ashley Lockhart as potential starters in the outfield. Huston traditionally has been an infielder.

“She might not be a true outfielder, but that might be the position she finds,” Ballew said.

The depth is better on the mound. Ballew expects Cunningham and Brooks to serve as the top two starters. She said South could have as many as six options at pitcher.

But the numbers within the program is a concern and Ballew said that could be exacerbated if a couple of key players are declared academically ineligible, which she believes is a distinct possibility. Ballew said the eligibility of the players in question should be resolved today.

If anyone leaves, it could open more playing time for the contingent of sophomores within the program.

“The youth is really, really talented,” Ballew said. “I think it’s one of the strongest sophomore classes we’ve had in awhile.”

But Ballew, whose program is coming off its first winning season since 2005, knows she needs her veterans to accomplish their goals.

“We have high, high expectations,” she said. “We want to be in that state-championship game.”

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