Opposing teams could be seeing less of McKenzie West this season. And the Monroe City softball team could be better this year than it was last year during its run to a district championship.
The Lady Panthers hurler pitched all 26 games inside the circle a season ago. This season the workload is expected to be lifted, somewhat, with the arrival of a pair of freshman arms.
Riley Quinn and Montana Masterson will be two other options Lady Panthers coach Melissa Chinn will have at her disposal during the 2017 season.
“It will be nice to have three pitchers who we can rotate in there this season,” the ninth-year head coach of Monroe City said. “It will be nice to be able to give Mac a break this year. Riley is strong and has a great arm. She showed us that in summer ball and really held her own in the Centralia camp.
“Montana is another pitcher who we can turn to eat some innings this year.”
But when the fireballer West is not inside the circle, opposing teams will still have to deal with her at the dish.
West will bat leadoff this season after she smacked four home runs last year while hitting a robust .423.
“Mac is as dominant as the come on the mound, but her bat is just as amazing,” the Lady Panthers coach stated. “In the four games we played in the Centralia camp this summer, she led off three of those games with a home run against some really good competition.”
West’s battery mate, Rachel Smith, will also be feared by opposing teams. The junior backstop belted four home runs last season while knocking in a team-high 35. She finished the season batting .452.
Smith will be the Lady Panthers cleanup hitter.
Lauren Youngblood makes the move to second base this season and is also hitting second in the lineup. She played at the hot corner last season and batted .430 while driving home 19.
Skyler Kauble will be sandwiched between Youngblood and Smith in the lineup and will anchor the defense on the infield from her shortstop position. Kauble led the Panthers with a .465 average a season ago and also drove in 27 runs.
“Those four players all hit over .400 last season and are all really stout players,” Shinn noted of her top four players in her lineup. “They all are all-conference and all-district players and are really the core of our team.”
Freshman Bailey Hays rounds out the Lady Panthers infield as she will be pencilled in as the starting third baseman and will hit fifth in the order.
With the infield set, Shinn mentioned starting outfield spots are still up for grabs. Having 25 players on the team to choose from this season is a luxury the veteran coach likes to have.
“We have some talented freshmen who are coming in here and working hard and competing for those spots as well with some of our other returning players as well,” Shinn said. “The numbers are good to see because there is someone at each position who is pushing someone ahead of them to be better.”
One of the freshmen who will be vying for a spot is Lauren Smith.
“She’s trying to work her way into a spot but she is smoke on the bases,” the Lady Panthers coach mentioned. “So I definitely plan to use her as much as possible as a courtesy and pinch runner. She is also a very smart player.”
With the starters at the top of the order receiving most of the attention and recognition, Shinn mentioned Haleigh St. Clair may be the unsung hero of the team.
“For the past three seasons I have come to her and asked her to try this or try that position,” Shinn said of her senior. “She has basically played everywhere. She has worked hard to earn her position and she has done what she needs to do to be where she is. She is just a great leader to have on the team.”
With all the experience the Lady Panthers return this season, Shinn noted her team has not become content.
“They seem relaxed but nobody here thinks, by any means, we have a conference or district championship in the bag,” the coach admitted. “We all know what the competition in our conference and district is like. We just want to come out and work hard and hopefully at the end of the year we are there.”
Monroe City opens its season Aug. 19 at the Putnam County Tournament.