Experienced players give softball team hope for state trophy

Sean C. Morgan

New Sweet Home High School softball Coach Gary Barr thinks it’s got what it takes to go to the state championship this year.

The Huskies are loaded, with eight seniors and at least two college-bound players.

Two juniors, Emily Marchbanks and Katie Virtue, are planning to play college ball, Barr said. In the pitcher’s circle, Marchbanks “has it all – good speed, movement and accuracy.”

Center fielder Virtue has been a hitting student of his for two years, Barr said. She’s a lefty slapper who will play at a high level in college.

“She’s fun to watch and can place the ball where the defense isn’t,” Barr said. She can drag, soft slap, hard slap, bounce or stand with power; and she’ll be Barr’s leadoff.

The two juniors join a core of eight seniors and four sophomores who have varsity experience.

Seniors are Shantel Pitts, Hailey Hummer, Megan Graville, Molly Dadey, Kacie Mauch, Kelli Fanning, Nicole Bell and Kaitlyn Lucero.

Sophomores are Sierra Thayer, Caitlyn Gillespie, Natalie Thorpe and Mackenzie Cochran.

“There’s been a lot of hard work done by the Boys and Girls Club, coaches starting at the Boys and Girls Club level,” Barr said. “There’s been a lot of hard work done by the summer programs at the middle school and high school level and by high school coaches here.

“I’m coming in with a lot of kids who know how to play ball. A lot of credit goes to what’s been done here.”

Each spot is so close, it’s tough to decide who should start, Barr said. And they’re smart and are looking at the annual Dairy Farmers academic recognition.

“They’ve determined they’re going to win that this year,” Barr said. There are so many GPAs in the high 3s on this team, he thinks they can do it.

Rarely must he repeat anything, he said. They’re on top of it when he says something.

“We have a lot of talent,” Barr said. “There’s so many players that are just interchangeable. We definitely do have enough to take state. Our goal is to make state finals.”

In the state playoffs, the win margins are one or two runs, and anything can happen, Barr said; but if this team keeps improving, the Huskies can do it.

Last year, the Huskies won their play-in game, the first round of the state playoffs.

The field will shift around at first, Barr said. Everyone will have a role, some of them going in based on the situation.

At this point, Marchbanks will pitch, while Graville will work first base. Gillespie will handle shortstop, working with Hummer at second. Pitts will take a new position at third.

Mauch will play infield and outfield, backing up some of the positions. She’ll start at left field at this point.

Thorpe will back up the outfield and second base, while Cochran catches backed by Bell. Virtue will continue at center field, and Thayer will play right field.

Fanning will back Graville at first, and Lucero will back Pitts at third.

Neither have a lot of varsity experience, but both are coming along by leaps and bounds, “and I’m really happy with both of their progress,” Barr said.

The coach doesn’t know much about the league yet, he said. Some of the best teams last year, such as Elmira, have lost senior pitchers.

He believes Sweet Home is probably the top team in the league this year, Barr said, and “we’re going to play our game.”

Coaching staff includes Paige Peterson assisting at the varsity level, Jim Hagle working as a part-time coach, and Steve Hummer is a full-time volunteer coach.

Hailee Huenergardt is a volunteer helper, Barr said.

Maggie Banta is coaching the junior varsity with assistant Dave Trask.

“Maggie is the most wonderful, perfect JV coach,” Barr said.

The junior varsity includes juniors Tia Adams, Kourtney Dixon and Maria Gutierrez; sophomores Shaelin Bruner and Vanessa Wodtli; and freshmen Lola Wingo, Mac-kenzie Virtue, Kara Almy, Mikayla Spencer, Madelyn Hawken, Sierra Douglas, Kira Long, Kaitlyn Autry and Molly Fisher.

JUNIOR VARSITY SOFTBALL team members are, in front, from left, Sierra Douglas, Mikayla Spencer, Mackenzie Virtue, Lola Wingo, Kara Almy and Tia Adams. In back are Coach Maggie Banta, Molly Fisher, Vanessa Wodtli, Shae Bruner, Kira Long and Maria Gutierrez. Not pictured are Kourtney Dixon, Kaitlyn Autry and Madelyn Hawken.