Fall '06 Prep Preview/Slater Softball/Lady Wildcats looking to young players
SLATER -- It may not be upon an entire blank slate upon which Slater head softball coach Debbie Gonzalez has to draw this year's team, but there aren't many crayons in the box.
The Lady Wildcats return only four starters from last season, and have just one senior -- second baseman Chelsea Sullivan -- on the roster. As a result, Gonzalez understands -- and if she didn't, Monday's 19-11 loss to the new Marshall club was instructive -- that "this year is going to be a lot of learning."
"There's so many freshmen out there," Gonzalez noted. "It's good for them because they're going to get a lot of playing time, but it's tough because of our conference."
The Lewis and Clark Conference, which includes recent state champions Salisbury and Westran and up-and-coming Marceline, teaches tough lessons. It's been a league in which, with rare exception, Slater has never been able to compete.
Because the schedule is inherently so rugged, it's essential that the Lady 'Cats at least have fun while they learn.
"As far as their enthusiasm and attitude to get down to work on what they need to do, it's the best we've had," Gonzalez said.
At least Slater has a promising pitcher, so vital in fast-pitch softball, in sophomore Rachel Gonzalez. Her numbers as a starter last year weren't impressive, but Gonzalez demonstrated she was capable of throwing a good game -- when she had her control, issuing 71 walks in 82-plus innings.
"The position is the most improved one we have because we've had girls who have worked on it," said Gonzalez' mother/coach, also pointing to the efforts of freshman Hannah Doherty. "Rachel and Hannah have both worked on it during the summer."
Defense has also been an emphasis, since the Lady 'Cats need to cut down on the 67 errors they committed -- which allowed 87 unearned runs to score -- during a 1-16 campaign a year ago.
"When we focus on defense, we do really well," Gonzalez said. However, 11 errors in the debut at Marshall wasn't encouraging.
Junior Jessica Fleetwood -- who moved from center field to shortstop -- is Slater's top returning hitter (.242), with Gonzalez a close second (.231). Junior Hannah Boyer takes over at catcher and sophomore Julissa Monnig returns to the outfield when she gets off the disabled list.
The Purple also have a pair of outfielders, junior Kayla Morton and sophomore Toni Brumit, who have a little experience. The Wildcats will be counting heavily on freshmen in two key spots: Devon Rogers in center field and Lexsi Griffith at third base. At least they come in better prepared than raw rookies due because of the junior high program.
"I've seen the basics come around in five years," Gonzalez said, "and it's going to come around in the coming years."