Girls hope basics, enthusiasm pay off
The order came with the regularity of spring thunderstorms, a steady drumbeat that bounded from dugout to dugout, from home plate to the farthest fence.
"Don't make the extra throw," De Soto girls softball coach Sissy Fletcher said.
Don't throw to first base if you can't get the out. Don't throw to third when jogging there would suffice. Don't throw ahead of a runner if the runner is stopped.
Don't make the extra throw and don't make the error.
That's a part of the plan, Fletcher said. The Wildcats ground their way to a 3-18 season a year ago. Now with Fletcher at the helm for her first season, a band of hardened veterans in the field and a dose of spring-training elixir, the Cats are ready to leave 2006 in the dust.
"We're tying to work on the basic mechanics a lot, getting their confidence up and getting the basics," Fletcher said. "I've got a good core group and we have a strong program coming up and I'm excited about that."
De Soto returns most of its main contributors from a season ago, losing only short stop Lindsay Williams to graduation.
The Cats return what power they had to their lineup with third baseman Meagan Bliss, who recently signed to play softball at Fort Scott Community College, and with two-time all-Frontier League centerfielder Kira Gonzalez.
"Meagan will be a real asset to the team this year," Fletcher said. "Then we have Kira playing centerfield with a strong bat and great leadership.
"We love having Kira out. She's a strong player and she loves to play and she works hard. The kids really respect her so it's nice having her in the outfield."
The Cats will field four other seniors, and Fletcher said that'll be a key to better overall play. These weren't girls that rode last year's bench for the most part -- they played and learned from every setback.
Fletcher said that upper-class experience has helped bring along some of the team's new faces.
"I have a lot of seniors coming back, so it's not just us three coaching. I have a lot of kids that were here and have been in the system long enough that they're helping the kids behind them," she said. "A lot of my seniors bring a lot to the game."
Perhaps the biggest question mark in the senior class in Kegan Cronin, who started all last season behind the plate. Cronin underwent offseason shoulder surgery and is in final phases of recovery. Though she's been somewhat restricted in practice, she has been working out with the team and expects to be ready by the team's March 27 season opening game against Wellsville.
A junior and a few freshmen also offer Fletcher a bit of comfort.
Jessica Pennington returns after pitching nearly all of De Soto's innings a year ago. She'll have a little relief this season as well with freshman Katie Williams set to earn a spot on the varsity roster.
Pennington and Williams will likely alternate between first base and the pitcher's mound depending on matchups and how the game is going.
Williams offers a little faster pitch than the more sure-aimed Pennington delivers, and Fletcher said both should find time to shine.
"It's nice that Katie plays first and pitches, and so do I," Pennington said. "She's probably more of a speed pitcher than I am, but she has pitches too like the rise ball and the drop ball. I haven't seen her pitch a lot but I know she's good.
"She's had a lot of experience and we're going to make a good team."
Joining Williams from the freshman ranks will be Jordan Burford, who is slated to replace Lindsay Williams at short.
"They should be a lot better this season. I know the kids are really excited, so that's half of it right there," Fletcher said. "A lot of the kids played this summer. We had clinics and over 90 percent of our kids showed up all summer.
"They've put the time in, they've worked hard this summer and they really have what it takes to improve a lot this season."