Havre Daily News
Last season was the first for the Havre High girl's softball team, and although the Ponies won just six games, they took their first steps toward building a successful program.
Now the Ponies hope that in 2006 they will take another step toward building a winning team.
“We are a pretty young team,” HHS head coach Bob Evans said. “We have some good upperclassmen, but this is only our second year, so we don't have the experience that some other programs have. But we have some good, kids back from last season, and we just want to keep getting better.”
The biggest obstacle the Ponies are going to have to overcome this season is pitching. Because this is only their second season, the Ponies have not been able to develop as many good young pitchers as the rest of their league. From that standpoint, they will be at a little bit of a disadvantage, especially because in fastpitch softball, pitching is key.
The Ponies do have some solid pitchers in senior Kelsey Evans and sophomores Steph Stremcha and Stacey Sheppard. They just do not have the depth at the pitching position that some of their competitors have, and unfortunately, that depth can only be built through time and experience.
“Fastpitch softball is all about pitching,” Bob Evans said. “If you have one good ace, then you don't have to rely as much on your offense or your defense. We are just going to have to play a lot of defense and a lot of offense.”
The Ponies' defense will be led by Evans at shortstop. Junior Erika Breise is also one of Havre's best fielders at second base. Stremcha will play shortstop when Kelsey Evans is in the circle. McKayla Patterson will do most of the catching, and Laura Zentmire will anchor the HHS defense at first base.
“We have some good upperclassmen players and some good young players and hopefully they can step up this season,” Bob Evans said. “Kelsey is a very talented player. She has a great glove in the field. Unfortunately, we are low on pitchers, so we are going to need her to step up and give us some pitching.”
Another area that the Ponies will need a lot of production from to offset their lack of pitching is their offense.
In addition to having a great glove in the field, Evans also wields a very good bat and should provide a big spark in the HHS lineup. She hit in the lead-off spot a year ago, but she may be moved down in the order this year to take advantage of her power to drive in more runs.
Batting cleanup for the Ponies for the second straight season will most likely be Zentmire. She provided the Ponies with a big presence in the lineup last year, and if Evans is moved down to the third spot, she and Zentmire could provide a formidable tandem in the heart of the order.
Havre will also look for contributions from Briese, Stremcha, Sheppard, Katie McLeod, Casey Benner and Sjanetee D'Hooge, all of whom could to give the Ponies some pop in the batting order.
“Kelsey batted leadoff for us last season, but we may move her down so she can knock in some more runs for us. Laura was our cleanup hitter all of last year, so she will most likely be at that same spot this season,” Bob Evans said. “I'm sure we will be shuffling things around a lot at least at the start of the season.
“There are a lot of possibilities with our lineup,” he added. “We are just going to have to see how things go and how our young kids step up and develop.”
The Ponies will play a 22-game schedule this season, with 12 conference games split among Polson, Libby, Whitefish, Browning, Columbia Falls and Ronan, and 10 nonconference games. They will also compete in three tournaments: Butte, Laurel and their own at home.
“We play in probably the toughest conference in the state, so that also makes it tough for us,” Evans said. “We want to win, of course, but we know that it is a process and it is going to take us a few years to get where we want to be. At this point, we just want to focus on getting better and being competitive and winning as much as we can.”
The Ponies will open the 2006 campaign with a stiff test as they play host to Polson on Friday in a season-opening doubleheader. The Pirates are the Class A defending state champions
“It is going to be a tough test for us,” Evans said. “They have been playing softball for 19 years now and this is our second, so they have a lot more pitching and a lot more experience than we do. They just have a great program and it will be a difficult challenge for us.”
Friday's doubleheader between Havre and Polson will get under way at 4 p.m. at the Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Field in Havre. The nightcap is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.