Thatcher’s Maroons ready to play softball

Butte Central’s softball team has a new coach for the 2013 season.

Former BC player and coach Kelci Thatcher takes over the program, replacing long-time coach Jim Patrick. Thatcher, who turns 24 later this month, has a blend of experience and youth as she steps into her first varsity head coaching job.

She also has numbers. The Maroons have 18 players out for softball this season. That’s the most players the Maroons have had out in a decade or more.

“We’re getting that competitiveness back to Central,” Thatcher said. “You’re not just guaranteed a spot because we’re low on numbers.”

The Maroons won’t put those numbers to test until next week when they play host to Corvallis Saturday, April 6 at Copper Mountain Park. BC’s season opener against defending Class A State champion Polson was last Saturday but was snowed out.

“I think the girls’ need to play,” Thatcher said. “They have done an excellent job at practice.”

Thatcher’s Maroons are a veteran bunch. The team boasts two experienced varsity pitchers and an infield made up of seniors.

Senior Taylor Marthaller and junior Mikayla Boggs helped pitch the Maroons to State last year. Thatcher said both have worked extensively over the offseason with pitching coach Dean Marquardt, a holdover from Patrick’s staff.

Freshman Teresa Piazzola will also see time in the circle for the Maroons, who Thatcher says has five talented pitchers. “Teresa Piazzola is going to be a stud, mark my words,” Thatcher said.

Junior Courtney Thomas will swing between junior varsity and varsity, while freshmen Kylie Gallagher will cut her teeth at the JV level to start.

The pitchers will be tossing to senior catcher Shannon McLaughlin, who was first-team All-Conference behind the dish a year ago. McLaughlin also brings experience of playing in the Senior Girls World Series in Delaware last August to the Maroons.

Senior Katie Hogart returns to the hot corner this year. Hogart, who is also an accomplished catcher, earned second-team All-Conference accolades as a utility player last year.

Danika Neumann is moving from second base to shortstop. The senior was first-team All-Conference at second last year. Taking over for Neumann at second is do-everything Hannah Stajcar.

Stajcar, a senior, started at catcher as a freshman. After missing her sophomore season with a knee injury, Stajcar earned All-Conference honorable mention as a first baseman last year.

“Hannah has never played second before,” Thatcher pointed out. “She’s just a natural.”

At first base will be senior Aleesha LaBreche, who also brings a lot of varsity experience to the table for the Maroons.

“They look solid,” Thatcher said of her infielders. “They’re seniors. This isn’t their first rodeo.”

Athletic junior Shelby Paffhausen will anchor the Butte Central outfield. Paffhausen, who took home an All-Conference honorable mention in right field last year, will play center field.

Marthaller or Boggs will play left field when not pitching. Right field could see a handful of players get a crack at the starting job Kate Ossello, Shawnee Hjelt, Aiden Dennehy and Thomas are all candidates to contribute.

Thatcher, a former second baseman, was a four-year starter for the Maroons (2004-07). Her coaching staff includes her sister Sarah Stepan, an outfielder on BC’s 52-0 run in 1999-2000.

Megan Walker will also assist, leading the junior varsity and assisting Stepan with the outfield. Thatcher leads the infield.

“We have a great staff,” Thatcher said. “They’re positive, they work hard and they’re there for the kids. I’m lucky.”

In all, Thatcher hopes the Maroons can regain the form that had them as a powerhouse in Class A softball. BC, which placed second at State in 2009, is looking for its first State title since 2000.

“It was the heart and soul of BC forever,” Thatcher said of the softball program. She hopes the Maroons can make it that again.

“We have great leadership on and off the field,” Thatcher said. We have a strong young class of girls. They’re going to push the seniors. I walked into a situation where the girls are fundamentally sound and they’re motivated.”