This could be the year for the Salem Rocks.
Veteran Salem head softball coach Bonnie Southerland thinks it very well might be, as the 2015 squad features an intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers — namely a handful of promising freshmen.
“We are at least two deep in every position and swinging the bat better than ever,” Southerland said. “I knew we were getting some great freshmen in to compliment the past two classes, but I had no idea it would be this good.
“I am so very excited to have so many great student-athletes in one place. … It’s our time, our turn and we are ready and prepared to meet the challenges ahead.”
Salem will need to fill Gabbi Zott’s shoes in the circle, however. Zott, a 2014 graduate, made the Division 1 all-region team and then pitched in the MHSSCA All-Star Game.
Armed and ready
Perhaps it will be sophomore pitcher Emily Stewart to take the reins from Zott.
“Emily has increased her speed and looks pretty comfortable out there,” said Southerland, adding that Stewart also will play first base when not pitching.
Another sophomore pitcher who Salem will be counting on is Morgan Zach.
“She pitched almost every JV (junior varsity) game last season and will be in the pitching rotation,” Southerland noted. “Morgan is also available in the outfield. She is one of the hardest workers on the team.”
Augmenting Stewart and Zach on the pitching staff will be freshmen Morgan Overaitis, Maddy Rosiewicz and Jenna Taylor.
All could have a lot to say about whether the Rocks make a run for the KLAA Central Division championship (Salem finished second in 2014 with a 8-7 mark but hit the 20-win plateau thanks to tournament success).
“Morgan pitches and plays infield,” Southerland said. “Great game smarts and work ethic. Quick, covers a lot of ground and hits them deep. Morgan can beat you on offense or defense.”
Rosiewicz also plays second base and “is one of the biggest surprises so far. She continues to develop as a threat on the mound and at second.”
As for Taylor, she probably will be dividing pitching assignments between the varsity and JV to get her reps in. But she also has potential to add a lot to the offense. “Jenna has a strong bat and good power.”
They will get to throw to junior standout catcher Kara Hutchison, who likely will handle the majority of starts behind the plate “and works great with all the pitchers,” Southerland explained.
“This year Kara will have her work cut out for her as we are in a good place with five players that can throw strikes,” Southerland said. “That’s a really good place to be.”
Also on hand for innings at catcher as well as infield spots is senior newcomer Lara Pieckacz, a travel softball standout who will play collegiately at Albion.
“Lara also has quickness and should help us on the bases,” Southerland noted.
Sophomore Mel Anderson is another player who can catch, although she might see time at third base. “Mel has a great bat, great range.”
Salem’s sparkling frosh class also includes third baseman Makayleigh Silverman and utility player Caroline Miller.
“Makayleigh has great range and accuracy from third, throws a rocket,” the coach continued.
Miller, meanwhile, is “very versatile” and able to play wherever the Rocks need her.
The Rocks aren’t just loaded with ninth graders, either.
Senior shortstop Maranda Armstead is a fourth-year starter and one of the team’s top players and leaders.
“Maranda carries a heavy bat and game presence,” Southerland said.
Also returning is junior centerfielder Jamie Squires, a D1 all-region selection in 2014.
“Jamie covers the outfield better than anyone we’ve had in the past few years,” Southerland said. “Jamie is quick, aggressive and a great baserunner.”
Expected to start in right field will be returning sophomore Katie Hiltz who “once again will dazzle us with her ability to get to those balls that seem impossible to catch.”
Junior Abbie Riedel is back and in the mix for the job at second base.
“Abbie really works hard and continues to improve on her infield skills daily,” the coach stressed.
Other returnees include junior outfielder Katlyn Stevenson, and sophomore utility player Kristin Mihalic.
“Katlyn’s heads-up baserunning last season was a key role,” Southerland said. “… I anticipate Kristin in the line up daily. She’s such a talented player and her quickness is a huge asset.”
Although Southerland is pumped about this year’s squad, she knows the KLAA Central won’t be a cakewalk.
“We’ve got a pretty tough division this year, much tougher than usual,” she stressed. “As always it will come down to the team that can throw strikes. This has been our biggest challenge the past few years.
“I feel confident that we’ve gotten over that hurdle and will be stronger this season in every aspect of our game.”
After opening the season against Wayne Memorial and Ann Arbor Pioneer, the Rocks will go on spring break.
Next on the schedule is an April 15 home twinbill against division rival Northville.