Lauren Delapaz is only one game into her tenure as head coach of Plymouth’s varsity softball team. But if Wednesday’s opening win is any indicator she could be about to preside over a special season.
With a mix of outstanding veterans and freshmen who play as though they were juniors or seniors, the Wildcats already are off and running thanks to a 7-3 victory over South Lyon East.
“We’re very blessed to have the ninth grade class that we do, we know they’re all going to be very big contributors,” Delapaz said. “But we’re really impressed with the junior and senior leadership we’ve had thus far this season.
“I really believe it’s their attitude and their mentality that has helped (younger players) overcome nerves and be prepared for today’s game.”
Winning the game with a three-run homer was one of those promising freshmen, shortstop Whitney Holden. Another ninth grader, outfielder/pitcher Jenny Bressler contributed a double and scored a run.
Plymouth had let a 3-0 lead get away, but showed resilience by tallying four runs in the top of the seventh.
Delapaz said that could become a blueprint for the Wildcats as they look to improve upon a 19-10 record in 2014 (13-2 in the KLAA South Division under former head coach Bev McManus).
“It shows that we’re just a hard-working, determined team and the coaches couldn’t be any happier,” said Delapaz, whose first-year coaching staff includes Pam Cameron, Dan Bressler, Amanda Bernard, Allison Raylean and Mychael Evans.
Plymouth, of course, features a handful of stellar seniors who will be instrumental in the team’s on-field fortunes.
That group begins with lefthanded starting pitcher Mikayela Marciniak and third baseman Brittney Miller, who have committed to play Division I college softball at Oakland University (where another former Plymouth coach, Val Canfield, is an assistant).
Marciniak started and won the opener against the Lions and enjoyed a 3-for-3 day at the plate while Miller brings a power arm and power bat to the middle of the lineup.
Other seniors include utility players Caylin Waters, Alex Rakovitis and catcher-first baseman Rachael Ring.
“We have five seniors on this team and they’re all outstanding leaders both on and off the field,” said Delapaz, a onetime head softball coach at Livonia Stevenson who was a Canton assistant coach in 2014.
Another key player is junior center-fielder Rachel Zerona, who catches everything in sight while also being an offensive catalyst from the leadoff spot.
“She (Zerona) is going to lead a great outfield with Bressler and (freshman) Jes Tucci,” Delapaz noted.
She said Bressler will start in right field when she is not pitching and Tucci is set for left field.
Backing them up will be “great role players” in Waters, Rakovitis, junior Sarah Bondy and junior Ashley Piepsney.
Bressler is expected to form a dynamic 1-2 pitching punch with Marciniak, throwing from the right and left side, respectively. “Hopefully it will be the perfect duo,” the coach said.
Plymouth’s infield defense should help both pitchers out quite a bit. Miller is a standout at the hot corner, while handling the keystone combination will be shortstop Holden and sophomore second baseman Gina Barber.
Starting at first base will be sophomore Mikayla Rose, backed up by Ring when she is not catching.
Meanwhile, junior Cali Jones (who had two hits in the opener) will provide a spark for the offense out of the designated hitter spot. She also can play corner spots when needed.
According to Delapaz, there is no doubt that Holden can hold down the starting shortstop job despite being just a freshman.
“We want her to become her own player here throughout the season,” Delapaz said. “In the first game she’s proven herself as a competitor. She’s definitely stepping into a position and being a leader.
“It’s not a position she’s played much of in the past, but she’s been up to the occasion every day. She’s a very mature young lady.”
Crushing a few homers the way she did Wednesday won’t hurt, either.