SPOKANE, Wash. – The 2019 softball season is set to get underway at Whitworth University and the Pirates are hopeful that a young, dynamic team is ready to reclaim the pedestal atop the Northwest Conference standing. The Bucs won three straight titles from 2015-17 before finishing third in 2018.
"We have much more depth in the pitching circle this year," said head coach Cristal Brown, who heads into her eighth year with a 190-113 record. "We will also have a more balanced lineup with a great mix of speed and power. But even more important, we have a fabulous team dynamic this spring."
While Whitworth returns several key starters, there is every likelihood that newcomers will play an important role in the Pirates' success this season. Especially among the pitching staff.
Madelyn Carlson, only a sophomore, is the staff veteran after leading the team in starts, appearances and innings pitched in 2018. She finished with a 16-8 record and a 3.41 ERA. Fellow sophomore Kaylee Rosenbaum went 1-2 with a 6.91 ERA in 16 appearances. Kylie Harris is a sophomore with first-year eligibility after she missed all of the 2018 season following an injury.
Rose Meshell and Drea Scheaier-Wolf are a pair of freshmen who could get a chance to pitch significant innings this spring. Both were highly decorated pitchers in high school.
The second piece of the pitching battery is up for grabs. Redshirt sophomore Rheanne Lewis has practiced at catcher this year after spending most of the 2018 season on the sidelines with an injury. Maddy Thomas was a highly recognized catcher in high school who led her squad to four straight WIAA state tournament appearances.
Other than at first base, Whitworth returns most of its starting infield. Michelle Silva was a first team All-Northwest Conference honoree at third base after she hit .448 and led the team in home runs (4) and doubles (12) with 30 RBIs. Shortstop Sara Gayer earned honorable mention All-NWC consideration as a freshman in 2018 when she batted .388 with three home runs, ten doubles and 30 RBIs. Desi Graham has been Whitworth's starter at second base each of her first three seasons.
Any of three previously mentioned players could start at first base. Lewis and Thomas could share that role when one or the other is not starting behind the plate. In addition, Carlson is practicing at first base and could see time when she is not pitching.
The outfield should be deep and speedy again in 2019. Left fielder Kaylie Lowery claimed first team All-NWC honors as a freshman in 2018 when she batted .385 and led the Pirates in runs scored (37) and stolen bases (12). Kinsey McNaught, a junior who was the 2017 NWC Freshman of the Year, is the returning starter in centerfield after batting .310 with eight throwouts on defense.
There is an open position in right field and any number of players could end up there. Returning veterans Morgan Portlock (Sr.), Natalie Edlin (Jr.) and Logan Miller (Jr.) have lots of previous playing experience. Edlin batted .328 in 2018, while Miller hit .273 and Portlock batted .258. Delayna Waite is a freshman who will also battle for time in the field.
Any of the above players could take over, or share time, as the designated player.
Whitworth will open the season this weekend with an eight game trip to California. The Pirates will play two games each against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, La Verne, Chapman and Redlands.
"Our early-season trip will allow us to play with some offensive lineups and pitching rotations and find options that will work best," Brown said. "The trip will also allow the team to practice communication and cohesion on the defensive end."
Following the trip to California, the Pirates will have three weeks off before opening their Northwest Conference schedule at home against George Fox on March 2-3.