Slipping to its first sub-.500 record since 2016 last spring, the Philomath High softball team finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. So heading into the season, third-year coach Travis King said the program has veered into a new direction and he believes an improved team culture could lead to more victories.
“We’re taking a different approach to the program, a more positive approach, which the girls are really keying in on and they’re having a lot more fun right now,” King said Monday afternoon as his players worked out in the batting cages. “We have goals in mind and they’re buying into them … that’s the biggest key right now.”
The Warriors, coming off records of 10-14 overall and 9-9 in the Oregon West, are scheduled to open the season at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against 5A Lebanon.
Philomath’s varsity roster features 15 players — eight seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.
“We might swing a couple off of the JV that are looking pretty good right now and are just kind of on that bubble,” King said. “We want to really see what we have going forward with our seniors and how they’re going to contribute. I think all of them right now are showing a lot.”
The seniors include Hannah Beck, Grace Bennett, Mia Bennett, Macy Freeman, Kori Galvan, McKenzie Hauck, Adrianna Hunter and Elizabeth Morales.
King’s looking at three pitchers in preseason drills — Morales, Hunter and freshman Brianna Ledbetter. The coach said his goal is to pitch all three of them this season. Morales and Hunter both have starting experience.
“That’s going to be really nice to have the three of them really holding us up,” King said. “Brianna and Ellie are really strong velocity wise … All three of them are bringing different pitches into it, so it’s really good to see that.”
On the receiving end, sophomore Janae Traglia returns. Sophomore Kaylie Kohler and senior McKenzie Hauck could also see time as backups.
King pointed out that Kohler can play just about any position.
“The only position that I don’t think she’s played on the field is pitcher,” King said. “So we can utilize her all over.”
Around the infield, junior Ahnika Tryon returns to first base with senior Macy Freeman and Ledbetter also in the mix for possible time. Senior Kori Galvan and Hunter are penciled in at second. At shortstop, King has opted to move Presley Reichhuber into the 6 hole after playing in center field.
“She’s got really good footwork and she’s vocal,” King said. “We need somebody that can talk and be vocal out there .. I think she’s going to do really well there.”
Senior Grace Bennett appears to be the frontrunner at third base.
“She’s seeing the ball extraordinarily well,” King said. “She’s probably shown the most hitting so far out of all of our kids. She’s worked on her footwork and has really shown some signs” of being able to play the position.
Sophomore Hannah Bennett is also in the picture at third.
In the outfield, King will have decisions to make when it comes to the lineup. As mentioned, Reichhuber moved to shortstop but the coach appeared to be confident about his options. Hauck, Kohler and Beck are competing for time along with Mia Bennett, who has been forced to work through injuries the last few springs. Morales has shown promise as well and Ledbetter could be a player to contribute. Junior Kelsey Olsen has played outfield in the past.
King said Mia Bennett and Kohler will likely focus on center field.
Besides Lebanon, the nonleague schedule also includes games against Junction City, The Dalles, Gladstone, Pendleton and La Grande, as well as four opponents in the North Medford Spring Break Tournament on March 27-28 — Pacheco (California), Ashland, Dayton and Brookings-Harbor.
King said one challenge related to the schedule will be number of road trips to start out the season. Eight of the 10 nonconference games will be on the road — including seven straight from March 23-April 8.