SPOKANE, Wash. – After a surprising third place finish in the Northwest Conference standings in 2011, the Whitworth softball team looks for continued improvement in 2012 under first year head coach Cristal Brown.
Brown takes over leading the Pirate nine following the three year tenure of Joe Abraham, who left Whitworth following last season to pursue other opportunities near his home in Ohio. Brown brings experience as a very successful high school coach in California and as a small college All-American during her own playing days.
She loves what she has inherited in her first team at Whitworth.
"I love that every girl on this team has a desire to improve," Brown said. "They work so hard, even when the coaches are not looking."
Brown will have a strong mixture of veteran and new talent to work with while filling out the line up cards this season.
"We have great depth both offensively and defensively," Brown said. "We have a lot of options for a good variety of bats in the lineup with good speed. We should be able to get a long of runs across."
Leading the way for the Pirates is the first base / DP combo of Jamie Brunner and Julia Johnson. Brunner led the Pirates in batting average, hits and on-base percentage last season, while Johnson led the Bucs in home runs, runs batted in and slugging average. When one is playing first, the other will likely be the DP, as was often the case last season.
Whitworth returns a pair of talented veterans in the middle of the infield as well. Senior Sami Parr has been a defensive mainstay at second base throughout her career. Last season she batted .292 and had only two errors in 140 defensive chances. Junior Heather Hesselgesser lines up on the other side of second base at short stop for the third year in a row. Hesselgesser batted .320 last season and tied for the team lead in total hits.
The changes will come in the pitching circle, at third base and behind the plate.
Taylor Gilbert was granted a medical hardship after suffering a long-term illness last season and looks ready to take on a key pitching role this season. She is joined by a pair of first-year players in Riley Fritz and Megan Fisher. All three will get opportunities to throw early and Brown will see how they do before settling on a regular rotation.
Whitworth must replace All-NWC catcher Caty Lieseke from last season. Brittany Wisner played in ten games as a back up last year and Ashley Grieg had a couple of starts as well. Jessica Ross, a sophomore transfer from North Idaho College, has made a transition to catcher from first base in the off-season and will factor into the mix behind the plate as well.
Whitworth will need a new starter at third base as well. Brown may look to both Fritz and Gilbert when they are not pitching to take over on the corner. Newcomer Amber Manuel is battling for a starting role as well.
Brown still needs to sort out her starting outfield as well. Natalie Evers and Makenzie Hope are returnees who played significant innings in the outfield last season. Hope batted .284 while Evers hit .283. First-year players Sacha Clow and Ashlyn Mundo have impressed Brown in early practices and will get chances to make their mark. Peyton McMahon and Whitney Byrom give Whitworth solid depth in the outfield as well.
The Pirates' season will open on February 17-19 at the Northwest Cup which will be held at Hood River Park in Clackamas, Oregon. Whitworth is scheduled to open Northwest Conference play the following weekend at home against defending NCAA Division III champion Linfield. Once again the top four finishers in the final NWC standings will advance to the conference tournament at the home of the regular season champion. That tournament will determine the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Championships.