It would surprise no one if Garden City’s softball team returned to the quarterfinal round of the Division 1 playoffs again this spring, just like it has done almost every year for the past decade.
In fact, it would probably astonish most local fans of high school softball if the Cougars didn’t advance to the elite eight.
However, due to a string of off-season hurdles that have unexpectedly sprung up, it’s going to be a bit more challenging for head coach Barry Patterson’s contingent to still be swinging in June.
In addition to several key losses to graduation – most notably, the absence of No. 1 pitcher and lead-off hitter Rachel Bommarito, and all-state second baseman Katlyn McIntosh – the Cougars will be forced to compete for the bulk of the season without four-year varsity standout Abby Joseph, who is recovering from a knee injury she suffered during basketball season.
Along with serving as Garden City’s potent clean-up hitter, Joseph was scheduled to succeed Bommarito in the circle, so her void will be doubly difficult to fill.
Compounding the Cougars’ tough off-season was junior left-fielder Abby Lynn’s decision to devote all of her athletic attention to volleyball, a sport that she thrives in along with softball.
“We’re really a work in progress right now, and we probably will be at least through the early part of the season,” said Patterson. “Obviously, losing our No. 1 pitcher, we’ll be less-experienced on the mound, especially with Abby expected to be our No. 1 coming in this year.
“It will take more than one person to replace Abby, who is a two-time all-state player. We’ll have to fill the void collectively as a team. We’re young in some areas, but we still have some solid veteran players and we have some nice additions. It may just take a little longer to get everything to jell.
“I’m anxious to see where we’ll go. It’s a big puzzle now and we’re still figuring out where to put all the pieces.”
One important piece will be wearing No. 16 – three-year varsity player Amber Swisher, who has been tabbed as one of the players to take over the mound duties for the Cougars.
When not pitching, Swisher will roam center field, where she has excelled the previous two seasons.
“Coming into this season, Amber only had a couple of innings pitched in high school, so we’ll try to get her a lot of repetitions early,” said Patterson. “She’s a good athlete, so I’m confident she’ll do well.”
Also picking up innings in the circle will be freshman April Rudolph and sophomore Alissa Turnbull, Patterson revealed.
There is no void to fill behind the plate thanks to the return of senior Rachel Spellman, who is an excellent handler of pitchers and a threat at the plate. Spellman will be backed up by junior Hannah DeHetre, who caught for the junior-varsity team last spring, and Emily Ward. Both Ward and DeHetre can also play the outfield.
Senior slugger Kelsie Powell will play one of the two corner-infield positions on a regular basis. The same can be said of sophomore impact-player Alicia Ascencio, who will also fill the designated player role.
“Kelsie swings the bat well and she has good hands at first base,” said Patterson. “Alicia showed good power before she was hurt around mid-season last year.”
Filling the big second-base shoes left by McIntosh will be senior Hannah Vera-Burgos, a three-sport standout at GC. Freshman Julia Chapman will also get a shot at second, Patterson added.
Junior shortstop and No. 3 hitter Kaylen Glenfield, an honorable mention all-state player as a sophomore, returns to hold down the fort at shortstop.
“Kaylen is one of the best hitters in the area and one of the better defensive players around,” said Patterson.
Sophomore Brittany Radtke will also play short in addition to some outfield.
Powell will split time at third base with freshman Natalie Billings, who has a “big upside”, Patterson noted.
The outfield will need a set of revolving doors, depending on who is pitching and starting each given day on the infield.
Junior Mikala Smolar brings speed and experience to left field (and center when Swisher is pitching). Turnbull, Radtke, sophomore Aleea Montgomery and senior Lauren Risner will also battle for playing time in the outfield.
“Aleea swings the bat really well,” said Patterson. “It may take her a little time to adjust to the upper-level pitching, but she’s a good athlete, so she’ll learn fast.”