Cats to count on pitching
If a softball coach could choose one segment of the team to be blessed with experience, it would have to be pitcher.
In that, De Soto coach Kelly Dennis said the Wildcats were lucky.
Although the Cats will do battle with a lineup rife with unproven, new and inexperienced players, De Soto returns a pair of pitchers, and when building a softball team, there's no better place to start, Dennis said.
Junior Jessica Pennington returns as De Soto's top pitcher.
"With the mound being only 40 feet away, it's a pitcher-dominated game," Dennis said. "If you have a good pitcher on the mound, you have a chance. If you have a really good pitcher on the mound, you're going to win half your games no matter what you have behind you."
While Dennis didn't go so far as to predict a .500 record behind Pennington's arm, she did say the hurler could be a major key to De Soto's success.
Many pitchers dominate high school softball by mowing batters down with an array of blistering pitches. Not Pennington, however. She can't pack the heat many of the state's best offer, but that may not be an entirely bad thing.
"Our pitching is average to below average as far as speed, but that may be one of Jess's best attributes," Dennis said. "She throws slower when a lot of teams are used to pitchers that throw faster, and she places the ball very well. Really, she kept us in every game last year."
What Pennington may provide on the mound, junior Kira Gonzalez will provide in the field and in the batting lineup. De Soto's best pure slugger, Gonzalez was an all-league centerfielder a year ago, and her bat will be essential if De Soto's to improve on last season's 3-18 record.
"Kira has an extremely good eye for the ball," Dennis said. "She is very powerful. She gets great extension on her swing, and she can hit the long ball. She can drive it out of the park."
Even more impressive, Dennis said, is Gonzalez does it without focusing solely on softball year around like many of the area's top players do. Gonzalez led the Wildcats with a .319 batting average and a .522 slugging, knocking two doubles, three triples and a pair of home runs.
"She hadn't played since she was in sixth grade, then started again when she was a freshman," Dennis said. "She's like a sponge. Everything we tell her, she takes in and absorbs. She's a coach's dream.
"She talks really well in the outfield. She'll be telling people where to be in the outfield and she's a leader. The kids look up to her and respect her work ethic."
As De Soto's season gets under way Friday at Wellsville, Dennis said she's hoping her young athletes are investing in the leadership Gonzalez can offer.
With only one senior returning from last year's squad and few, if any, players who are dedicated to the sport year-round, Dennis said vast improvements might still be beyond this year's group.
"I don't have a lot of expectations," Dennis said. "We're going to be very young and very inexperienced. We're in a very tough league where girls play year-round. You just have to do the best you can."