Lady Hawks bring experience to 2014 softball season
Cheney High School softball head coach Gary Blake has something he hasn't had in quite a while in his 2014 Lady Hawks team - a team heavily laden with upper classmen and experience.
Ten of Cheney's 11 players return from last year's club - nine juniors and seniors - that went 10-11 overall and fifth at 8-10 in the Great Northern League, losing in the playoff's opening round to East Valley. Of those 10, three are seniors with three years varsity experience: Amy Anderson, Bailey Towey and Shayleah Turner while senior Whitney LaValley has two years.
Juniors Megan McDowell and Cheyenne Wright are back with two years experience while juniors Adrianna Suiter, Julia Boy and Cheyenne Hanson, along with sophomore Abbie Waldron, return for their second season of varsity. Freshman Rachel Barsness rounds out the squad, with Blake adding that several freshmen on junior varsity might also get some time with the big club later.
It's a club with a lot of elements that could lead to success. The Lady Hawks hit well in 2013, with a team average of .311 led by Anderson's .448 average. In two games so far this year Cheney is 30 for 69, a .434 average.
"So far, we've hit the heck out of the ball," Blake said.
They're also pretty good defensively, posting a .926 fielding average last season and so far having made only two errors in 10 innings. Most importantly, Cheney might be the only team in the GNL with its entire starting pitching staff back: Boyd, McDowell and Towey.
Blake feels two of the best pitchers in the league right now are Colville senior McKenna Cabbage and Deer Park sophomore Kylie Sweeney. Both got the lion's share of innings for their teams last year and Blake figures that will hold true in 2014, although Colville might bring someone else into its rotation to prepare for 2015.
All three of Cheney's pitchers have seen plenty of mound time over the past 2-3 seasons. Boyd and McDowell should be pretty close to splitting duties this year - both hard throwers with Boyd having a bit more control.
Towey, who starts at second defensively, and her great drop ball pitch will also get innings. Add Turner to the battery, a catcher Blake said knows the pitchers well and has learned how to call a game, and the Lady Hawks could prove formidable on the mound.
When not pitching Boyd and McDowell will be available in the outfield defensively, along with Waldon who also could get time at first. Offensively, Blake's current lineup has Barsness leading off, followed by Towey, Anderson, Suiter, Turner, Boyd, Wright, Hanson and LaValley.
Cheney has its challenges, the first being it hasn't seen really good pitching yet. Neither Prosser or Clarkston possessed challenging staffs - the Mustangs gave up 15 walks with one hit batter - so a good indication of Cheney's abilities might come after Tuesday's game at Deer Park.
"We hit average pitching really well," Blake said. "Now the question is can we hit dominant pitching. Actually, it's more like see if we can turn it into non-dominant pitching."
Blake sees the other challenge as how well they can bond as a unit, playing for each other rather than individually, something that can happen with teams possessing a lot of talent.
As for the league, Blake sees Colville and Deer Park as the teams to beat, with Cheney right in that mix, followed by the two Spokane Valley schools, Clarkston and Pullman.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.