The high school fastpitch season kicked off its schedule last week, and there are several teams in east Pierce County that are looking to make a deep postseason run this May.
Last year, the Emerald Ridge Jaguars and Rogers Rams both advanced to the Class 4A state tournament behind ace pitchers Meagan Hendrix (Emerald Ridge) and Tess Dixon (Rogers).
Here is a look at how varsity programs from the area will fare this season:
Head coach: Jacy Ramsey, 11th year
Last year: 21-9 overall, advanced to Class 4A tournament
Key players: Tess Dixon, P; Rylee Whispel, C; Cydney Beckwith, IF; Kim Klock, CF; Jessica O’Tool, P.
In the past several years, team chemistry has propelled the Rams to great heights.
This year should be no different.
Rogers, which has been a fixture at the state tournament since 2006, is a cohesive group.
“We stress teamwork and build team unity,” Rams head coach Jacy Ramsey said. “When you have girls that are willing to work hard for the sake of the team instead of individual glory, it leads to successes.
“We’d love to keep that tradition going. We should be strong this year, but there are a couple of other schools who will be strong, too.”
The Rams’ four returning starters — Dixon, Whispel, Beckwith and Klock — all are underclassmen.
“We are very young but talented,” Ramsey said. “Our offense will be the strongest attribute, and we have good leadership on the mound (Dixon) and behind the plate (Whispel).”
Head coach: Tony Batinovich, 21st year
Last year: 13-9 overall, reached 4A district tournament
Key players: Kaela Ingram, SS; Marissa Miller, P; Bailey Plumb, OF
The goals remain the same each year with the Puyallup program — to reach the state tournament.
The Vikings narrowly missed out on it last season after they lost to Union in the district tournament.
“We want to take a trip to Spokane for state in May,” Vikings head coach Tony Batinovich said. “Our players have a good work ethic and get good coaching during the high school ball season and outside of high school ball on their club teams. We have a lot of pretty good young players who will need to adjust to playing against older players.”
Batinovich said Marissa Miller will be the team’s ace this spring.
Head coach: Kristin Crawley, third year
Last year: Placed sixth at 2A district tournament
Key players: Jessica Pederson, IF; Allie Sims, P; Cassidy Sargent, OF
Sumner head coach Kristin Crawley hopes a season-opening 11-0 victory against the Spanaway Lake Sentinels on March 12 foreshadows good things to come this season. Jessica Pederson went 4-for-4 with six RBIs, and the Spartans pounded out 17 hits.
“Jessica had the game of her life,” Crawley said. “She continues to be a strong force for our offense.”
Sims, the Spartans’ ace, has earned South Puget Sound League 2A first-team all-league honors for the past two years.
“Allie will be one of the best pitchers in the league,” Crawley said.
The Spartans want to reach the state tournament after they were eliminated one game shy of their goal the past two seasons.
Crawley said her team has been working on the little things to finally reach the big stage.
“The girls have been working really hard on their communication and overall game performance,” Crawley said. “We are guaranteeing that it will not be a limiting factor for us this year.”
The Spartans have shown an ability to get base hits and make spectacular defensive plays so far this season.
“We want to be aggressive at the plate and not back down,” Crawley said. “Our outfield is really solid. Cassidy (Sargent) is a great leader out there. All of our outfielders can run down just about anything.”
EMERALD RIDGE JAGUARS
Head coach: Derick Nelons, first year
Last year: 22-7 overall, advanced to 4A state tournament
Key players: Meagan Hendrix, P; Chelsey Hayes, CF/P; Val Armas, IF; Kayla Muche, IF.
A new head coach will pace the dugout for Emerald Ridge this spring.
Derick Nelons, who has 15 years of coaching experience at both the high school and club levels, has taken over for Lynn Wardle.
Nelons said he’s excited about the opportunity to lead the Jaguars’ program.
“I would describe my coaching style as fair, firm and consistent,” he said. “I expect my players to strive to be the best players they can be.”
The Jaguars have one of the best pitchers in the state in ace Meagan Hendrix, who has accepted a scholarship to play at Portland State University.
Hendrix has been the Jaguars’ starting pitcher since 2010, when she was a ninth-grader.
“Meagan is definitely one of the top pitchers in Washington,” Nelons said. “Chelsey Hayes is a junior pitcher who will see some time in the circle this year.
“Both pitchers are great at keeping hitters off-balance.”
Dominance in the circle has resulted in high expectations for the Jaguars.
“Our team’s motto is, ‘Life is a competition, no excuses,’” Nelons said. “Our goal is to be the (Class) 4A state champs.”
Sports Editor Shaun Scott can be reached at 253-552-7002 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_shaun.