Youth must rise from limited talent pool in Skyline’s softball program
April 3, 2012
By Matt Carstens
“Strike three!” yelled the umpire on a questionable pitch that was closer to the dirt than the strike zone.
Groans could be heard from the Issaquah High School dugout after the questionable call. The intensity of the Issaquah-Skyline rivalry could be felt with every pitch as both teams struggled to score runs early in the game March 28.
As the sky opened up and the rain started falling, the umpire tried to get the game moving.
“I don’t see a catcher out here,” he hollered toward the Issaquah dugout.
“I don’t see an umpire calling the game out there,” Issaquah head coach Jim Magnuson yelled back.
After a good laugh between the two, the rest of the game, albeit a short one, got under way.
After Skyline took a two-run lead on an RBI triple by Madisen Camp-Chimenti, starting pitcher Meagan Burris struggled with her command and several walks led to a three-run inning for Issaquah. After that, the game was called due to unplayable conditions and Skyline fell to Issaquah, 3-2.
“I really truly in my heart believe that they didn’t beat us,” Skyline head coach Alison Mitchell said. “We let them beat us. We beat ourselves. When we had that two-run lead, you could tell the frustration was on their faces. They weren’t expecting us to do that.”
Skyline has a very young group of players this year with no seniors on the team. Mitchell said she worries about the state of softball in the area and he thinks the sport’s popularity has declined in recent years.
“Softball’s dying,” she said. “We all used to have varsity and junior varsity programs. We had lots of kids that came out, we had lots of support and for whatever reason right now, whether it’s kids playing club soccer or lacrosse or whatever it is, we’re all only able to field one team. This year, I only had 14 kids total tryout, out of 2,000 in the school.
“We’re all pretty concerned about what’s going to happen, if we’re even going to have a program.”
Despite the doom and gloom, the girls that have showed up are ready to fill the big holes left by the seniors that graduated last year.
“I graduated three seniors last year,” Mitchell said. “Two of them were definitely really big losses. Anya Kamber was my starting third basemen — she’s playing at Brandeis University now in Boston. Lindsey Nicholson, my shortstop, is now playing at Boise State, and both of them were just absolutely rock solid on the field and they were my big hitters.
Lindsey got co-MVP for KingCo as the offensive player with a .670-something batting average. She pretty much led all of KingCo with her hits,” she added. “I’m looking for that kid again this year. You can’t match what she did because she worked really hard for it, but I just need consistency from my players because we need to find that offensive threat.”
Even though the holes seem big, Mitchell said she is confident her newcomers have what it takes.
“I have a couple freshman that came in I’m really excited about their future,” Mitchell said. “We have some potential with some younger kids — they just have some really, really large shoes to fill.”
Riding the hot hand
If there’s one thing Issaquah’s head coach could have on his fastpitch team, it’s a lights-out pitcher. Lucky for him, he’s got one.
“I would say we should be in the top two in our division with Brielle (Bray), because she’s just lights out,” Magnuson said. “She was a little off the other day, but she’s going to keep us in every game.”
Besides being a power pitcher, Bray has a weapon that is rare among high school pitchers these days: a legitimate knuckleball.
“To my knowledge, from coaching select all year long, Brielle is the only pitcher in this state that can throw a legit knuckleball that does not spin,” said assistant coach and Brielle’s father George Bray. “It floats and is hard to catch. She hides it very well, so while she is throwing fastballs and breaking pitches, you never know when you are going to get the off-speed junk.”
Some key newcomers on the Issaquah squad include shortstop Michelle Fowler and Kylie Bevell.
Fowler’s “a quality kid, a good leadoff hitter,” Magnuson said. “Then you’ve got Kylie Bevell, who hits the ball as hard as any kid I’ve seen. First practice, she hit four over the fence and about six through the fence.”
Magnuson also said to watch out for centerfielder Shannon Heneghan, who he thinks is going to have a big year.
Back for more
Liberty head coach Brian Hortman is returning to the program after a three-year hiatus. The longtime Liberty coach has coached football, baseball and fastpitch in his 13-year career and is excited to help return Liberty to the top of KingCo 3A.
“In my first stint as the softball coach, we made the state tournament all five years, which was part of a 12-year streak,” Hortman said. “We haven’t gone to the state tournament in three years, and in my first year back that’s the goal.”
Although it’s still early in the season, Hortman seems to be equipped with the tools he wants to make that tournament run.
“This is probably the fastest team I’ve ever coached in terms of just depth,” he said. “We can steal bases in all nine spots in our lineup, and that’s a pretty fun way to play. I really focus on an aggressive style of fastpitch — a lot of hit and runs, sac bunts, squeezes — really trying to cause a lot of chaos.”
Some key returning players for Hortman’s squad this year include centerfielder Ana Faoro, who is a top-of-the-order slapper with an on-base percentage of .455; third baseman Liza Van Kamp, who leads the team in batting average through five games this season at .563; and last year’s first-team, all-league shortstop Denise Blohowiak.
“Joshlynn Wolff is another one to look out for,” Hortman added. “She leads the team in RBI’s, has four extra base hits, including a walk-off home run against Bellevue. She’s playing a strong second base right now.”