Preparation and a commitment to get better in the offseason are the ingredients that the Western Nevada College softball program believes will make it a more formidable team in 2014.
Sixth-year Wildcats coach Leah Wentworth hasnâ€™t seen any of her previous teams work as hard as this group prior to a season.
â€œIâ€™m really excited to get going. This team has really put in a ton of work during the fall,â€ said Wentworth, whose team opened its season Friday in a tournament in Henderson, Nev. â€œTheyâ€™ve worked harder than any group in strength training and practices. Iâ€™m excited to get them out to the games to reap the rewards of all their hard work.â€
Sophomore pitcher Carlee Beck said team members have been accountable and willing to do more than is expected.
â€œWe have been preparing since the first day of fall semester, just going the extra step in practice,â€ she said. â€œEveryone is making that extra step to work out more, staying after practice to get work done.
â€œWe just want to have a successful year.â€
Six starters return from last yearâ€™s club that recorded the first postseason victory in the programâ€™s short history.
â€œThe fact that most of our returners were starters last year gives them confidence this year, and they can spread that to the freshman this year,â€ Wentworth said. â€œAt regionals, they bought into staying in the moment every single game and never giving up. They saw that they can compete with any team in this conference.â€
Besides Beck, returning starters include second baseman Madi Gonzalez, shortstop Jenny Rechel, and DH/first baseman Cara McCarthy. Sophomores Andi Lee and Heather Septon also started a year ago and will be counted on to play different positions in 2014. Lee, who played right field last season, is battling Lindsey Ashbaugh for the third base job, while Septon has the tall task of replacing Sydney Darby behind the plate.
Darby, who set the Wildcatsâ€™ single-season home run record a year ago with 17 homers, left the program for personal reasons and has since transferred to College of Southern Nevada. Darby was a second-team all-region selection as a freshman, topping the Wildcats with a .367 batting average, 55 RBI and a .706 slugging average.
â€œItâ€™s hard to replace a bat like Sydney Darbyâ€™s and her great consistency at the plate,â€ Wentworth said.
Septon, who played regularly at third base in 2013, hit .263 and was a smart baserunner, stealing eight bases in eight attempts.
One player who Wentworth didnâ€™t expect to have to start the season is McCarthy. McCarthy needed two surgeries to repair a fractured elbow that also required repairing ligaments that were torn off the bone.
â€œThere were times that doctors thought she would never play again. She worked incredibly hard in the offseason to get back and be cleared,â€ Wentworth said. â€œSheâ€™s taking it one day at a time, and weâ€™re certainly hoping to get her bat back into the lineup and see how the rest of her game develops. She has so much power that the ball just shoots off her bat, making it really hard for infielders to make plays on her balls.â€
Despite missing most of the second half of the Scenic West Athletic Conference schedule, McCarthy hit .329 with 24 RBI in 29 games and led the team with a .417 on-base average.
Middle infield should translate into a strength for the Wildcats with Rechel and Gonzalez back at shortstop and second base, respectively.
Rechel struggled with consistency at the plate but delivered four homers and eight doubles and was second on the team with 26 RBI. Gonzalez was second on the team with 13 stolen bases in 17 chances and finished with a .286 batting average.
Whether she plays at first or third base, Lee gives the Wildcats another power source. As a freshman, she smashed three homers, a triple and eight doubles to go along with a .262 average. Lee usually made contact, striking out only 19 times in 172 at-bats.
Even though two-time SWAC first-teamer Jennifer Quam will no longer patrol center field, Wentworth is confident that sheâ€™ll have her best outfield to date.
Makenzie Hospodka draws the assignment of replacing Quam in center, with transfer Katelyn Bomar taking over in right and either Casey Bell, Kaysee Archer or Meghan Hospodka, all freshmen, covering left field.
â€œItâ€™s hard to lose a big player like Jenny, but Makenzie has come in and shown us that she can not only fill that role but also have the attributes that Jenny brought to the outfield,â€ Wentworth said.
Bomar hit .343 and stole 19 bases for Central Arizona College last season, adding more speed and offensive consistency to the Wildcat lineup.
Beck and Ashbaugh figure to assume most of the duties in the circle. Injuries to freshmen pitchers Kylie Everill and Rylee Coggins have left Wentworth with a depleted bullpen.
â€œA little more maturity in our pitching staff will definitely help us this year,â€ Wentworth said. â€œWe are down to half of the pitchers that started the year with us, so we are back to a number that can be challenging at times with the teams we face. If we can hit our spots, Iâ€™m confident that our pitchers can keep us in games and give us a chance to win.â€
Last year, Beck led the pitching staff with seven wins and logged a team-high 161 innings. She focused her offseason training on improving her mechanics and the location of her pitches. Beckâ€™s intent is to provide her team with complete games.
â€œIâ€™ve been working on staying mentally tough through all seven innings, conditioning more and taking conditioning more seriously so it transfers into games, so I can go a full seven innings,â€ Beck said.
Like Beck, Ashbaugh has a season of junior college softball experience. The Carson High School product posted a 9-11 won-loss record for Feather River College last season, pitching 12 complete games and compiling a 3.88 earned run average.
She showed some of her potential in a fall league game, throwing five shutout innings against NCAA Division I program Weber State. When Ashbaugh isnâ€™t pitching, Wentworth says sheâ€™ll compete for playing time at first or third base.
Having already shown the work ethic of a successful team, now it is up to the Wildcats to transfer that quality to the field.
â€œAll of the girls are incredibly hard workers. I think we are going to have an incredible year,â€ Beck said.
Fans can follow the Wildcats online this season through GameChanger at gamechanger.io. Game times this weekend are 6 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. Monday.