If the Peninsula Seahawks hope to get over the hump and win their first trophy at May’s Class 3A state fastpitch tournament, they’ll have to get production from a few new faces.
Now that outfielder Rachel Wittreich, third baseman Kayla Stelle and shortstop Anne Binschus have graduated, the Seahawks are looking for players to step forward and replicate the offensive prowess that’s been a signature of coach Melissa Miller’s three previous teams.
During the past two seasons, Peninsula has won 40 games, a league title and a bi-district tournament championship. The Seahawks have fallen short at state, though, winning only once in five tries.
“I feel like when we go to state, we are really scared,” said Kaitlyn McKinney, a senior outfielder. “I feel like we just need to play our game how we know how to play, and work as a team and talk more on and off the field.”
“I’m hoping that ... I can get my skills to a greater level, and the whole team also, so that we can actually go to the second day at state,” said Brittany Surratt, a senior second baseman.
While the team has some question marks as it prepares for the season, it also has one sure thing — the battery partnership of pitcher Aspen Ison and catcher Alaina Morgan.
Ison and Morgan are in their third year as teammates, and they’ve developed enough cohesion to take on a big task: calling their own pitches.
“That’s the plan,” Miller said. “We’ve got to keep Alaina healthy, and Aspen’s ready for it. They’ve been working up to this point to do it. Alaina’s a real smart girl, and Aspen’s a real smart girl, and they should be able to do it.”
Miller believes it’s the right move because the players see things the coaches don’t, and because Ison and Morgan already shake off a lot of the coach’s pitch selections.
The plan has the players’ backing, too.
“Obviously, they have the connection and the teamwork together that can pull it off for all of us,” Surratt said. “They’re so amazing, and I’m happy to be on the same team with them.”
Binschus, who is now playing at Texas Tech University, was a rock with her glove and bat. Her likely replacement, MaKylee Jeppson, is a sophomore who would’ve been a varsity player last season had her transfer to Peninsula been approved.
Jeppson has earned rave reviews from her coach and teammates.
“She is amazing — at least I think so,” Surratt said. “She has the arm and the speed, and I think she will do great.”
Senior first baseman Tyler Stolz was nursing a sore knee last week, but she will be the starter once she’s healthy. Another senior, Kristin Jensen, likely will move from left field to third base to replace Stelle.
Several players are jockeying for playing time in the outfield, including junior Alayna Piwonski, sophomore Megan Ross and freshmen Hanna Patterson and Riley Harper. Patterson’s solid hitting stroke could get her into the lineup immediately.
The unquestioned leader of the group is McKinney, who has been stationed in center field since her freshman season. The left-handed hitter will be expected to produce another high on-base percentage from her leadoff spot.
“I just have to keep on doing what I’ve been doing for the past three years,” McKinney said. “I’ve been working a lot on bunting and just improving conditioning-wise, because I’ve been out of shape for a while.”
The Seahawks will play three nonleague games before their South Puget Sound League opener March 19 at Auburn Mountainview. Miller hopes the field conditions improve as rain forced a couple indoor workouts last week.
“It’s easy to look at them in the gym where everything is so controlled,” she said. “Once you get outside, it’s a whole different story.”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.