Maroons open softball season Saturday

A quick glance at the Butte Central 2014 softball roster will tell you that coach Kelci Thatcher’s Maroons are young.

Very young.

What Thatcher, sees, though, is not a bunch of greenhorns. She sees a collection of athletes who have already been thrown into the varsity fire in volleyball and basketball.

She sees a team already gelling together and brimming with camaraderie and confidence.

“They’re ready to go; they’re mature,” the second-year head coach said. “I’m blown away by the level of skill they have shown in the first week.”

The close-knit sophomore – and freshman – laden Maroons, hit the road Saturday to open the season with two non-conference games at Polson.

BC, which has hardly practiced outside yet, will play Polson, the runner-up at last year’s Class A State tournament in Belgrade, at 1 p.m. The Maroons will then play Libby at 5 p.m. (The junior varsity games are at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) Season schedule

The Maroons open Southwestern A play at home on April 10. Until that conference opener, Thatcher is going to try some different combinations to find out her best lineup during the season.

“We’re going to mix and match in the outfield to see what we have,” Thatcher said. “Defensively we are strong. All 20 girls are strong defensively.”

The Maroons, who have just four seniors on the team, are also fast. That quick-and-athletic roster will give Thatcher the opportunity to do more things offensively this year.

“This year you’ll see a little different strategy,” Thatcher said. “We’ve been working on slap hitting. We’re definitely going to have a different approach from last year.”

BC will have to replace seven productive seniors from last season. That won’t be easy.

The Maroons, though, return one of the top pitchers in state in sophomore Teresa Piazzola.

Piazzola earned All-State honors as a freshman, and Thatcher said that was coming off limited conditioning in the off season because of injuries. This season, the coach said a healthy Piazzola has added 5 miles per hour to her fastball, which has hit 62 MPH on the gun

“She’s grown immensely,” Thatcher said of her ace.

Piazzola will throw to sophomore catcher Kate Ossello, who has been working with the pitcher throughout the off-season.

Freshman Corbyn Holm will catch when No. 2 pitcher Mikayla Boggs, a senior, throws.

Senior Courtney Thomas will also pitch innings for the Maroons. Sophomore McKenzie Gallagher and freshman Mollie Peoples will pitch junior varsity to get ready for varsity.

It appears that the infield is pretty much set. Senior Rylee Green will play third base, while freshman Taylor Wahl will play shortstop.

Thatcher praised Green’s quickness and leadership skills. She called Wahl “tough.”

Sophomore Shawnee Hjelt, a late-season spark who earned an all-conference honorable mention as a utility player as a freshman, will start at second base, while Peoples will get the nod at first.

“She did whatever I asked her to do last year,” Thatcher said of Hjelt. “Mollie is a mature athlete. She’s a competitor. She’s a Peoples.”

Senior Shelby Paffhausen is back to start at center field. Thatcher called the athletic Paffhausen a “strong leader.”

She’ll be flanked in the outfield by freshman Emily St. John in left field and Boggs in right. When Boggs pitches, Ossello will play in the outfield.

The lineup can and probably will change at least a little in the early part of the season. Thatcher said she hopes to have it set by the time the conference slate rolls around.

Butte Central made a run at the state tournament last year, coming within one game of playing on Saturday.

This year, the road to the state tournament is a little bit longer. For the first time, the Class A teams will have to survive a divisional tournament to qualify for state.

Divisionals are May 23-24 in Anaconda. State is May 29-31 in Polson.

Thatcher said her team’s ultimate goal is to be playing late on the final day of state. She said the Maroons, though, are taking their goals step by step.

“We have to get better, that’s our main goal,” Thatcher said. “You want change to occur over night, but it doesn’t.

“Our first goal is to get better each game, get first in our conference, make it out of divisionals and win the state tournament.”

Thatcher said her team has the right ability and mentality to start checking off those goals.

“I’m really excited about the talent we have,” the coach said. “The girls are excited.”

2014 Butte Central Softball Roster