2012 Preview: New softball coach getting team with depth, experience

Sean C. Morgan

New Sweet Home softball Coach Casey Humphrey inherits a team with a long list of returnees this year, after finishing last year 17-5 overall and 13-2 in league last year.

Last year, Stayton edged out the Huskies 2-1 in the first round of playoffs.

Returning players include seniors Emili Riggs, Megan Rubidoux, Kendra Whaley and Sarah Wyatt; juniors Hailey Hummer and Megan Graville; and sophomores Emily Marchbanks and Katie Virtue.

Joining the team are freshmen McKenzie Cochran, Sierra Thayer and Kaitlynn Gillespie.

They are joined by Shantel Pitts, a junior moving up from the JV.

“I’ve been really lucky with the cards I’ve been dealt with the players,” said Coach Casey Humphrey. “We’ve got a great core of girls.”

The girls can swing the bat, and they’re quick, solid defenders, he said. “We still have the speed and will continue to put pressure on opponents with our bunts and speed and all that jazz.”

The team’s number one goal is to win the league title, Humphrey said. “I think we’re right at the top of the league.”

He thinks this team the potential to reach at least the second round of state playoffs, he said.

“I think we’re going to go deep because we’ve got a couple of things,” Humphrey said. First, the team has two pitchers who bring different styles to the circle. Graville throws hard, while Marchbanks throws more off speed to keep opponents off balance .

The Huskies’ defense is solid, Humphrey said. The outfield is fast, and the infield has no weak spots. The team is quick from the top to the bottom of the order. The middle of the order can swing, and the top can slap, bunt and get on base.

He doesn’t know much about the league yet, but “from what I hear, I think Sisters is going to be OK.”

Elmira should be tough too, he said.

Graville and Marchbanks will pitch, Humphrey said. Each one will see every team in league at least once. They’ll split time on first base. Graville was a first-team all-league pitcher as a sophomore in 2011.

Riggs, a first-team all-league selection last year as a utility player, will handle catching duties.

Rubidoux or Wyatt will work at third base. Second will be split between Hummer and Cochran, and Gillespie will be shortstop.

Wyatt, who was an all-league first-teamer last year as an infielder, will also spend time in left field, while Virtue, a first-team outfielder as a freshman in 2011, will work at the center. Hummer and Pitts will play right field. Whaley also can play outfield positions.

“I think it’s going very well,” Humphrey said of practice. “It’s my first year here, and this is my first year coaching softball. They’re working hard, and I think it’s smoothly. They really want to win, and they’re winners. They just get after it.”

He has been around coaching most of his life, including six years of personal coaching experience, Humphrey said, and this team is one of the hardest-working he has ever encountered.

“I’m a big believer in preparation,” Humphrey said. “If we’re prepared going into a game, everything is easier. Just like school, if you prepare for a test, you’re going to do well.

Humphrey was hired to assist this year. Coach Steve Hummer is taking this year off, and Robby Robertson was going to coach. But Robinson has resigned from his coaching and teaching position. Humphrey moved to the head coach slot.

Humphrey graduated from Lebanon High School and played baseball at Linn-Benton Community College before going to Western Oregon University. He graduated from Western last year with a bachelor of science in exercise science.

He is planning to marry his fiancé in five months, and he wants to return to school, earn his master’s degree and become a teacher.

He is a teacher’s assistant at Sweet Home High School this year, and he was junior varsity two coach in boys basketball.

“My first experience with Sweet Home was three years ago with Ko (boys basketball coach Kostanty Knurowski),” Humphrey said. He took time off in between, and last year, he was head baseball coach at Blanchet Catholic School in Salem. He also has coached JV baseball at North Salem High School and spent five or six years coaching football in Lebanon. He has four years experience in basketball and five years in baseball and softball.

Humphrey said he and Knurowski are family friends, and that was his connection to Sweet Home. He has enjoyed spending time in Sweet Home.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. When I was in high school, you never wanted to play Sweet Home. They’re just hard-working kids.”

He also loves being around the teachers, administrators and staff at the high school, he said. “From top to bottom, it’s a great place to be.

“I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be around. I’m really excited. I think we could make a deep run in playoffs.”