When John Taylor took over as head coach of the Gig Harbor High School fastpitch program in 2011, he said he was looking to get the Tides into the state tournament within three seasons.
Taylor’s third year officially gets underway next week, and Gig Harbor is poised to accomplish the goal.
Four seniors anchor an experienced lineup, and a talented group of freshmen has arrived to replace the 2012 graduates, who included two college-caliber players in Maddy Foster (Boise State) and Sam Kimble (Pierce College).
The Tides haven’t been to state since 2001, and the high hopes they set last season went up in smoke with a loss to South Kitsap at the Class 4A Narrows League tourney.
“That’s in the front of our minds as we’re training right now,” said Michaela Nelson, a senior outfielder. “It’s one of those things where we really want to push to try to overcome what happened last year.”
One way to do that is to boost schedule strength. On March 27, the Tides will face 3A powerhouse Wilson. Three days later, the varsity team will host defending 6A champion North Medford (Ore.), and the JV team will play defending 4A champ Woodinville.
“We figured, hey, if we’ve got designs on going to state, we might as well see if we can hang with the big boys,” Taylor said.
Gig Harbor’s seniors have value in several aspects. Nelson is a good contact hitter and a capable outfielder. First baseman Corrine Luke has home-run power. Anna Hitt is the team’s top pitcher.
There’s also outfielder Jenni Glover, who took the captain’s reins before the end of last season.
“Not only is she a natural leader type,” Taylor said, “she does the right things, says the right things, keeps everybody positive in the dugout, and that’s what you need.”
Glover said she was surprised but honored to be named captain.
“I’m not the biggest bat on the team, or got the strongest arm,” she said, “but I feel like I’m good at leading the girls, and that’s what a captain should do.”
Foster was a defensive stalwart and a tremendous leadoff hitter. Taylor is looking to sophomore Anna Overland to replace her at shortstop, and sophomore Tess Parker may get the nod in the No. 1 slot. Like Foster, she’s a left-handed, slap-hitting specialist.
“I just need someone in the leadoff spot with great speed that hits .450,” Taylor quipped. “Replacing Maddy is going to be kind of tough, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Megan Riggs, a pitcher and second baseman who plays with the Washington Sidewinders select program, leads the strongest freshman class in Taylor’s tenure. Marin Malich, the cousin of Tides catcher Gracen Malich, should contribute immediately as an outfielder and first baseman.
“I was telling our other coaches, four or five of your JV players would’ve made varsity a few years ago,” Taylor said.
“They have so much talent,” Nelson said of the ninth-graders, “and where talent lacks, hard work is there to try to improve their talent.”
Riggs could help take pressure off Hitt, who has eaten up the vast majority of innings in the pitching circle the past two seasons.
“When I was a freshman, we had Kjersti Johnson and Anna,” Glover said, “but since then, we haven’t had a solid No. 2 pitcher. Now we’ve got Megan, which will be great to give Anna some rest, because she’s had a few injuries that keep coming back.”
Third baseman Aubrey Lindberg, a junior, is the team’s other big run-producing hitter. The Tides have depth at other positions, including pitcher Sydney Prigge and infielder Erin Hibbs.
“I’m trying to fill my bench up with a couple of speed players and a good contact hitter,” Taylor said, “and we really have designs of getting much farther than we did last year.”
Sports Editor Neil Pierson can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_neil.