By DAVID GREEN
Morenci softball coach Kay Johnson has a lot to like about this year’s squad.
There was no one lost to graduation. Her pitcher is back after missing last season with an injury. She gained an experienced player who moved back into the district. And she has the most talented freshman class that she’s seen in a long time.
Cause for celebration?
Maybe a muted one. There’s defending league champion Sand Creek that also has everyone back. There’s state semi-finalist Summerfield with plenty of girls returning. There’s Clinton, new to the league, with three state finals appearances in the last half dozen years. There’s always tough Whiteford.
“We should have one of the best small-school leagues around,” Johnson said.
She’s said that before in the past, but it seems to ring true more than ever this season.
At least she has a squad ready to enter the fray—with one important “if.” That’s Jade Pfund who missed last season on the mound. She underwent surgery in August and so far it appears that she’s ready to throw.
“If Jade can pitch and we can hit like we did last year, we should be in pretty good shape,” Johnson said.
She’s hoping to see her offense hold strong from last season, perhaps even improve.
“We scored a lot of runs last year because we had to,” she said.
The Bulldogs were giving up a lot of runs with inexperienced pitching and some rookie defensive players. With all of the defense played last season, she’s expecting improvements from a more experienced team.
Three seniors will return to their positions from last season—Rachel Rutkowski in the outfield, Salena Martinez behind the plate and Brooke Barrett at first.
Two juniors will also return to their old positions—Megan Cox in the outfield and Nicolette Swimmer at shortstop.
Sophomore Chanler McCaskey will take third base and Mariah Bovee, who was unexpectedly thrust onto the mound last year, will handle second. Denae Merillat will return to the outfield.
Pfund, a junior, completes the lineup after playing only six innings all season last year.
Junior Jackie Paris is back on the team and junior Dana Joughin is back after missing last season.
Sophomore Krystal Miles returns and Alexis Kramer is back in Morenci after starting last year for Madison.
Last season the Bulldogs worked with 12 players for most of the season. This year’s freshman class could almost field a team of its own with eight players out. There’s some good quality among the group, good enough to challenge some upper classmen for starting roles.
Freshmen are Tess Ramsey, Meghan Smith, Tia Tompkins, Chelsea Tompkins, Mercedez McCaskey, Barbara Hollstein, Elaina Pruzinksy and Ashley Smith.
“We may start off a little slow while I’m looking over the positions,” Johnson said. “We might give up some non-league games to give the younger kids some experience.”
After the first two outings were canceled due to snow, Morenci is waiting until Thursday to open at Erie Mason. The Bulldogs will compete Saturday at the Grass Lake Invitational and will follow that up with a double-header Monday at Addison.
The league season starts April 18 at Madison and the home opener isn’t until April 23.
Coach Johnson is convinced the Bulldogs will be better than last season and possibly the best in several years. But with the quality of play in this year’s Tri-County Conference, fans will just have to wait and see if the improved Bulldogs are able to produce the wins.