Any team with starting senior pitchers like Ally Power, Savannah Heebner and Janelle Gardner would definitely be considered favorites to win the state championship.
Any team with just one of those pitchers would have a good chance of being very successful.
Pitching, obviously, is vital to the success of any high school girls softball team.
“The bottom line is pitching in softball is the most important position in the game,” said Dave Atencio who will be coaching for his 21st season and second at Valor Christian. “It doesn't matter if you have great hitters, if you have top level pitching, nine times out of 10 that is going to win you championships.”
Ponderosa, Castle View and Legend will all celebrate top-level pitching this season.
Power, the reigning Colorado Community Media South Metro Pitcher of the Year and the Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year of a year ago, helped Ponderosa advance to the Class 4A state semifinals last fall.
She won 17 games, had a 0.78 earned run average and struck out 277 batters in 152 innings pitched. Power also led the team with a .442 batting average.
Heebner is the ace for Castle View, winning 11 games with a 1.55 ERA and tossing 204 strikeouts in 122 innings. She was also the Sabercats leading hitter at .478.
Gardner pitched every game for Legend and helped the Titans reach the Class 5A state title game. She won 13 games with a 1.48 ERA and fanned 78 batters in 108.2 innings.
“Power, Heebner and Janelle are three of the top pitchers in the state,” boasted Legend coach Shelly Boyd.
There are other pitchers on teams from south metro schools that could help their teams have triumphant seasons, too. Atencio has three quality young hurlers in junior Alexandra Kinder, sophomore Abby Zuschlag and freshman Ali Kiltonan.
Seniors Sam Hardy of Douglas County and Hannah Hatten of ThunderRidge are back and Arapahoe's Allie Hanson returns after missing last season with a knee injury. Heritage junior Carly Carlsen won nine games a year ago.
“There's no way you can really argue that pitching isn't the most important (aspect of the game),” argued Ponderosa coach Toby Tabola. “Our team is a perfect example of that. On the other hand we had arguably the best pitcher in the state and we didn't win the state championship.
“You have to have a team that can play defense and put runs up or it doesn't matter how good your pitching is but obviously the team's success is going to center around the strength of their pitching. If you have a team that hits and plays good defense without good pitching you stand a chance to be successful but if I had to go one way or the other, I'd take the pitching. There's no doubt that pitching is going to be what makes or breaks you.”
One ace pitcher can pitch almost every game in a high school season.
The natural arm movement of pitching softball averts injuries. Plus, the high school schedule of three games a week as opposed to the summer club slates with sometimes four or five games during a weekend allows the high school pitcher to be able to throw each game.
“The big thing is you can run with one pitcher,” said Atencio. “Many state championship teams had just one pitcher. To me if you have what I always call the horse, you can ride that horse to the state championship.”
The time between games during the regular season allows one pitcher to throw most of the innings. Regional and state tournament games might require a pitcher to enter the circle twice during a day.
Boyd has a hard time to ever pull Gardner out of a game and Power and Heebner rarely worry about getting fatigued.
“There's really never been a point where I've gotten tired,” said Gardner. “I just train for it. It depends on the situation. If it's going good I don't want to be pulled. It's just how I am. But, if it's a bad situation, yeah pull me.”
Heebner also says pitching changes are usually dictated by the situation.
“Sometimes you are tired but you won't hurt your arm,” she said. “It usually depends on how we are doing. If we are winning and I'm tired, I will usually stay in. If we are losing and I'm tired and they are hitting off of me, then we'll probably switch out the pitchers.”
Power relies on endurance.
“It's all about endurance and I build it through practice,” she said. “I make sure I don't get tired, especially if I do have to throw two games. When I do get tired I just keep pushing myself and drink water to keep hydrated. I don't get out of control but I do loose a little momentum. I make sure I pick it up when I am looking tired.”
Most quality high school pitchers, such as Heebner, have private pitching coaches and arrive at high schools with most of their pitches developed through long hours of pitching on club teams in the summer.
Power and Gardner also developed and refined pitches with private tutors and during club competition during the summer.
“We've taught Ally to be a smarter pitcher, knowing when to throw certain pitches, what location to throw certain pitches so our coaching comes to play with that but the actually development of her pitches was done before we got her,” admitted Tabola. “Her pitches were already there. We don't develop the pitcher, we develop the strategy and how to be a good pitcher.”
Power acknowledges she has a better knowledge of how to pitch.
“I slowly learned each pitch as I grew up,” she said. “I would learn the fast ball and get it down before I was able to move on. In four years of high school, I have grown a lot on situations on what to throw and when to throw it. I have learned a lot.”
Softball teams at a glance:
Coach: Jeannie Krueger
2013 Highlights: 3-11 in Centennial League and 4-15 overall. The Warriors were a young with mostly freshmen and sophomores on the team. A lack of pitching depth was tough to overcome.
Top Returning Players: Allie Hanson, P, Sr.; Dasia Vavrik, CF, Jr.; Delaney Mullins, 1B, Jr.; Ashlynn Krueger, P, Soph.
2014 Outlook: Hanson missed last season with a knee injury and the Warriors will have three pitchers in the rotation. A year of experience might be noticed in the win column. “With three pitchers in the rotation and a little more experience, the Warriors should be competitive in the Centennial League,” said Krueger.
Coach: Caley Mitchell
2013 Highlights: Sabercats were 5-5 in the Continental League and 13-9 overall. Castle View, with four freshmen on the roster, was an upset winner of the regionals and advanced to the final 16 for the first time in Class 5A but lost in the first round to Eaglecrest.
Top Returning Players: Savannah Heebner, P, Sr.; Lexi Dunkelberger, OF, Soph.; Kayla Gau, OF, Util., Jr.; Ashlyn Dzialo, 2B, Soph.
2014 Outlook: Big things are expected from Heebner, but she will be surrounded by an otherwise young team with only one other returning senior. Heebner went 11-8 in 2013 with a 1.55 earned run average. She had 204 strikeouts in 122 innings pitched and led the team with a .478 batting average. “We have high expectations and will look forward to advance in the state tournament,” said Mitchell.
Coach: Bill Kramm
2013 Highlights: Bruins were 6-8 in the Centennial League and 8-11 overall.
Top Returning Players: Sterling Martin, P,1B, Jr.; Cassidy Blakeley, P,SS Jr.
2014 Outlook: Creek returns 10 players with varsity experience, but those players will be challenged by the growth of younger players and incoming freshman. The offense looks to be solid. “With hard work this summer and a few additions, the defense is much improved,” said Kramm. “The expectations for this season and our quest for a regional bid are looking promising.”
Coach: Brian Stebbins
2013 Highlights: The Huskies were 8-2 in the Continental League and finished third. They were 20-3 overall, were regional champs and top-seeded in the Class 5A state tournament but lost in the second round.
Top Returning Players: Sam Hardy, P,OF, Sr.; Clara Larson, SS, Jr.; Jordan Acosta, CF, Soph.; Ashley Kim, 3B, Sr.
2014 Outlook: The Huskies had only three seniors on last year’s team. “Offensively we have some ground to make up with kids that we graduated,” said Stebbins. “I still see us as a top half of the league team and the league will be tough as it usually is. If we get consistent pitching we will be right in there contending for the league championship.”
Coach: Pablo Severtson
2013 Highlights: Eagles were 5-5 in the Continental League and 9-10 overall.
Top Returning Players: Carly Carlson, P,SS, Jr.; Sydney Ballinger, OF, Soph.; Amanda Stanton, 3B, Sr.; Gabbi Mato, C, Jr.
2014 Outlook: Heritage and Littleton merge to form a softball team and the Eagles’ young players were forced to step up and play a lot. Carlson is back as a pitcher to watch. “Hopefully we will be around .500 and compete well in the league,” stated Severtson. “We started four freshmen last year and I want to see what the jump will be from their freshmen to their sophomore years.”
Coach: Shelly Boyd
2013 Highlights: The Titans tied Rock Canyon for first in the Continental League with a 9-1 record and lost 6-4 to Legacy in the Class 5A state championship game. Legend, which dropped two of its first four games, finished with a 20-6 overall record.
Top Returning Players: Janelle Gardner, P, Sr.; Brooke Doumer, 2B, Jr.; Jesse Smith, OF, Soph.; Kylie Hager, OF, Sr.; Zoe Mihalicz, SS, Soph.
2014 Outlook: Ten competitors listed on last season’s roster were underclass players, which makes the Titans a team to watch again this campaign. “Our goal is to win the league again, advance to the state tournament and win one more game than last year,” said Boyd.
Coach: Bret Grammerstorf
2013 Highlights: The Golden Eagles struggled with a 1-9 Continental League record and a 5-14 overall mark.
Top Returning Players: Kayla Lewis, IF, Jr.; Hayden Smith, OF, Jr.; Kelsey Heiland, C, Sr.; Dani Klatt, P, Sr.
2014 Outlook: Klatt, Vista’s top pitcher in 2013 with three wins, is back and Smith hopes to improve on her .410 batting average as the Golden Eagles hope to reload in 2014 after rebuilding in 2013.
Coach: Toby Tabola
2013 Highlights: The Mustangs were 7-3 in the Continental League, 19-5 overall and a semifinal team in the Class 4A State Tournament. Junior Ally Power was the Colorado Community Media South Metro Pitcher of the Year and the Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year. She won 17 games, posted a 0.78 earned run average and hurled 277 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched.
Top Returning Players: Ally Power, P, Sr.; Sarah Carpenter, C, OF, Sr.; Sarah Coleman, IF, Sr.; Kendra Dunham, IF, Sr.; Peyton Majteka, OF, Soph.; Kendal Boyum, C, OF, Soph.; Alyse Morin, IF,P, Jr.; Hannah Smith, IF,OF, Jr.
2014 Outlook: The Mustangs will rely on the right arm of Power and newcomers will have to fill a spot or two. The school’s numbers are down which gives young players a chance to earn playing time. We’re look for a good season,” said Tabola. “We have high hopes. We don’t have the depth that we would like but we will put eight solid players on the field to go with a great pitcher. We should be in good shape. I hope to get right back where we were last year and hopefully get to that final game.”
Coach: Debbie Kortbawi
2013 Highlights: The Jaguars were 9-1 in the Continental League and tied Legend for the league title. The team was 17-5 overall and lost to Legend in the second round of the Class 5A state championships.
Top Returning Players: Katie DiDonna, P, Utl., Jr.; Sloane Stewartson, C, Soph.; Hannah Clark, SS, Sr.; Sydney Marchando, Utl., Soph; Caroline Thomas, CF, Jr.; Sydney Hairgrove, OF, Sr.
2014 Outlook: Rock Canyon has won 68 games over the past four seasons and is a perennial state playoff team. Several talented young players return off last year’s team including Sloane Stewartson who led the Continental League in hitting as a freshman with a .530 average. She also launched five home runs. “With the loss of a very large 2014 class, we are hoping to rebuild and hold our own in a very strong Continental League,” said Kortbawi.
Coach: Jim Dollaghan
2013 Highlights: The Grizzlies were 3-7 in the Continental League and 8-11 overall. The team qualified for the regionals and beat top-seed Ralston Valley, winding up in the state tournament for the first time since 2007. ThunderRidge lost to No. 1 seed Douglas County.
Top Returning Players: Gabby Smith, SS, Sr.; Katie Tourtillott, C, Sr.; Katie Leiker, 3B, Sr.; Hannah Hatten, P, Sr.; Madison Whitefoot, P, Jr.
2014 Outlook: The team is loaded with seniors and could be a dangerous outfit to play. Smith hit .439 and stole 10 bases. Tourtillott, an all-conference pick, led the team last season with a .492 average and Leiker hit .403 and scored 24 runs. “We expect to be a dark horse this year competing for our first league title since 2005,” said Dollaghan.
Coach: Dave Atencio
2013 Highlights: The Eagles went 17-6 and reached that Class 4A Sweet 16 for the first time. In Atencio’s first season at Valor after coaching 17 years at Dakota Ridge, the Eagles were regional runner-ups with a team that had only one senior.
Top Returning Players: Abby Zuschlag, P, Soph,; Morgan Petrone, 3B, Sr.; Kendall Ohman, OF, Sr.; Alexandra Kinder, P, Jr.; Shelby Mann, 2B, Sr.; Makenna Roth, OF, Sr.
2014 Outlook: The Eagles will be playing in the Jeffco 4A league and have eight starters returning. Talented freshman Ali Kiltonan will add to a strong pitching staff that includes Zuschlag and Kinder — who combined to record all 17 Valor wins a season ago. “We will be one of the league favorites going into the season with defending state champion Wheat Ridge,” said Atencio. “We’re excited to be in the league and competing against great teams like Wheat Ridge. We have a nice mix of some talented seniors and some talented underclassmen.”
Note: All above information in the team capsules was gleaned from responses to a survey that was sent to all south metro area schools.