Fastpitch previews: Eastlake looking hungry to improve

March 17, 2014

By Neil Pierson

For a proud program that captured a state title only six seasons ago, the 2013 campaign was a big disappointment for the Eastlake Wolves fastpitch team.

Eastlake managed nine wins, but was only 4-10 in Class 4A KingCo Conference play, and missed the playoffs entirely. However, the Wolves have reasons to believe those memories could soon evaporate.

Eastlake returns eight players from last season’s roster, and while fourth-year coach Rob Zahn expects to start only two seniors, the squad shouldn’t suffer as many growing pains as it did in 2013.

Zahn added a link to the 2008 state championship team in assistant coach Stephanie Fox, a pitcher who played collegiately at Western Washington and assisted last season at Lake Washington High.

The coaches have plenty of returning veterans to work with, including junior pitcher Mikel Charles, senior shortstop Elizabeth Tracy, and an outfield grouping of Naomi Rodriguez, Abby Goux and Olivia Palenscar.

Charles could get some help in the circle from two varsity newcomers – sophomore Julie Graf and junior Izzy Tihista – but she’s put in the kind of offseason work that could make her a breakout star.

“I’m excited to see what’s to come for her,” said Palenscar, a junior who will share captain’s duties with Charles. “I’m excited to have her back in the outfield, and everybody is going to have her back this year.”

Zahn isn’t concerned about offense, but winning will require better defense – specifically, fewer throwing errors.

“We also need to finish every play on defense and be ready on every pitch,” he said. “We are going to score a lot of runs, so defense is key for us.”

Palenscar said last year’s struggles could make the team stronger. The players have learned from their mistakes and have brought a new, more positive outlook into the 2014 season.

“Everybody’s got a great attitude – the attitude of where you’re just going to lay it out on the field every second and give it all you’ve got,” Palenscar said.

Skyline plans to start six freshmen

There are definite disadvantages in having freshmen fill six of the nine starting roles, but Skyline High School fastpitch coach Ken Brooks also believes there’s a bright side.

“No one knows anything about us,” Brooks said. “All they know is we’ve got a bunch of freshmen.”

The Spartans have struggled to recruit players for a few seasons – 14 turned out this spring, 12 the year before. But the team isn’t making excuses, and Brooks isn’t cutting corners because of youthfulness.

“They all play at a high level on their select teams, so just because we’re young, it doesn’t mean we don’t expect them to do good things here,” the coach said.

Skyline finished 8-13 overall, 6-8 in KingCo Conference games last season. Pitching depth is maybe the best reason the team’s win totals could rise.

Although the Spartans lost their top hurler, Winter Ridgeway, who transferred to Issaquah, they’ll have three contributors in the circle. Caroline Bowman, a freshman, figures to start most games, and she’ll be backed up by fellow ninth-grader Molly Spaniac and returning sophomore Annika Hildebrand.

First baseman Riley Davidson, a captain and one of two seniors on the squad, is excited about what she’s seeing from the trio in preseason workouts.

“We definitely have a better pitching staff than years before,” Davidson said, “and just the fact that they bring different aspects to it – they all throw a variety of pitches – it’ll be different for all other teams to see.”

Signs point toward KingCo being an offensive-minded conference this season, and Brooks thinks he has several big hitters, including Davidson, Hildebrand, Bowman and Spaniac.

Davidson thinks the Spartans are capable of manufacturing runs when they need to.

“We definitely have a lot of speed, and we definitely do have the small-ball aspect,” she said. “We have a good chunk of power, so we can definitely use all aspects of the game.”

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