The Mid-Columbia Conference softball season opens today with all eight teams in action. Chiawana will head to Walla Walla, Hanford goes to Southridge, Pasco hosts Richland and Kamiakin will visit Kennewick.
Walla Walla, Richland and Kamiakin are expected to do battle at the top of the standings. The Blue Devils and Bombers shared the last two CBBN 4A titles and went head-to-head for the district and regional championships. Last season, the Braves dominated CBBN 3A competition and all others in the state.
No one is calling the MCC race an open-and-shut case, however. Chiawana went 3-9 last season in league play but reached the regional tournament after stunning Moses Lake and Wenatchee in the district playoffs. Pasco went from a 2-12 record in 2011 to a district berth a year later.
Heres a look at how the MCC teams stack up:
After a surprising run to the Class 4A regionals last season, Chiawana returns eight players, including pitchers Jackie Martin and Kim Poma. Also, Aylin Moreno is back after taking a year off to focus on track. She joins Whitney Weber and four-year starter Cela Cruz in the outfield. Maddie Heine has moved from catcher to shortstop, and shes dangerous at the plate along with Martin and Sanaski.
Though all-league shortstop Remy Bradley (.500, CBBN 3A-leading 13 SBs) has moved on to Central Washington University, Hanford should be in good shape after advancing to the regional tournament last year. The Falcons only lost one other senior, and they return pitchers Kayla De La Paz (5-2, 51 2/3 IP, 1.91 ERA) and Kadi Patterson (2-3, 26, 2.42). De La Paz, Patterson, MaKenna Hall, Emma Garcia and Miranda Foraker are capable of producing runs in bunches.
Defending Class 3A state champion Kamiakin could have some growing pains without ace Lindsey Kamphuis (13-0, 63 IP, 0.33 ERA), catcher Jessica Miracle and longtime coach Tammy Hutchison, who stepped down after a 28-0 season. Tim Bisson is at the helm this year, and as he tries to figure out his battery, he will have plenty of veteran offensive talent in Melanie Oord (led the CBBN 3A with a .630 average and 29 RBIs), Emily Benson (.629, 4 HRs, 22 RBIs), Hunter Schneitter (.596) and twins Carlie (.556) and Cylie Richards (.474, 6 HRs, 22 RBIs). All five are solid fielders who will help back up sophomore pitchers Kate Austin and Cassie Ramsey.
Kennewick lost two games to defending two-time Class 1A state champion Connell earlier this season, and the road wont get any easier for the Lions as they come up against the MCC powers. Newcomers Julisa Gonzalez, Gaby Nava, Eva Guizar, Kara Anderson and Natalie Mullen bring speed to Kennewicks defense. Karissa Shiflet, an all-league honorable mention at shortstop last spring, has one more season before heading to Concordia University in Portland.
Pasco graduated Marissa Menchaca (.525, 17 RBIs), who received CBBN 3A Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, but the Bulldogs have brought back six starters. Junior outfielders Annabel Perez, Brittany Cruz and Bibiana Gonzalez racked up 19 stolen bases last year. Gonzalez (.425), Perez (.422), sophomore Shelby Fuston (.400) and Cruz (.395) will be looked upon to spark the offense.
Richland lost seven seniors from last years team, including Cydney Elgin (.581, 9 SBs), Bailey Walthers (.571, CBBN 4A-best 10 SBs), Dora Hernandez (.559) and Caitlyn Stevens (.517, 5 HRs), but the Bombers have something few other MCC teams can boast: a veteran, playoff-tested battery. Richland still has senior left-hander Paige Goulet and junior right-hander Kayla Andrews in the circle. Also, sophomore April Utecht (.575, 7 HRs, 30 RBIs) is back behind the plate for the Bombers, who last season placed third in the Class 4A state tournament. Senior shortstop Monika Hebky provides leadership in the infield.
Southridge will rely heavily on the arm of Sarah Gilliam, who stepped up late last season when Janelle Randles injured her hamstring. The Suns dont have Randles this year, but seven starters played on last years regional tournament team, including all-leaguers Gilliam, Makensie Meyer (catcher) and Chelsey Klepper (third base). Gilliam will have some relief from Vanessa Castrejon, who will move between the circle and second base.
Walla Walla won the Class 4A state title in 2011 and took second in 2012, but the Blue Devils are in a new world this year after the graduation of pitcher/first baseman Alyson Ambler and the retirement of coach Jerry Humphreys. New coach Kate Keyes played under Humphreys and was an assistant the past two seasons, so expectations remain high in Walla Walla. The Blue Devils return Kendsey Hill, who caught Ambler (Connecticut) and Hope Klicker (College of Charleston) during their state runs. Hill, a Utah State commit, will help junior Elli Rassbach and sophomore Kate Ferenz settle into the circle. Jordana Storm hit a blistering .758 in CBBN 4A play last season, and all-league infielder Libbie Jimenez (.476, 16 RBIs) also is back.