Softball preview: Pitching expected to be key for Saugatuck, Fennville softball squads
By Jason Wesseldyk
After a 13-year stint at the helm of the Fennville softball team, Tony Pena has stepped away as head coach of the Blackhawks.
Taking over for Pena is Catherine Nightingale.
And while this is Nightingale’s first time coaching softball at the high school level, she is no stranger to working with prep student-athletes.
“I have spent the past 10 years coaching JV and varsity level girls’ basketball,” Nightingale said. “Softball has been more recreational for me since playing in high school, but I have had the opportunity to coach my own daughters in the community rec programs.”
Nightingale also has the benefit of the work Pena has done with the players in the past.
“Being invited in to fill the shoes of 13-year coach Tony Pena is a great place to be in,” Nightingale said. “These girls have had a lot of success under Pena and they know how to win.
“The mental side of the game is usually the toughest part to coach and I get to join these girls who already have the winning mentality.”
In addition to that winning mentality, Nightingale sees pitching as one of Fennville’s strengths.
Returning senior Madyson DeRoo and returning junior Danielle Davis are expected to shoulder the bulk of the pitching load.
“We have very strong pitching with Danielle and Madyson,” Nightingale said. “Those two, along with returning senior Kyra Fitzhugh, are also our vocal leaders. They help set the pace and keep the intensity high.”
Fitzhugh will play primarily in centerfield, while DeRoo will see time at first baseball and Davis will play shortstop.
In addition to that trio, junior catcher Sierra Till and sophomore left fielder/second baseman Katelyn DeWolf return with previous varsity experience.
The rest of the team will be comprised of newcomers, including sophomore catcher Madison Radabaugh.
“Madison will fill a big spot for us,” Nightingale said. “She has a great work ethic and will fit right in at the varsity level.”
All in all, it’s a group for which Nightingale has high hopes.
“I expect us to have a good showing in conference play with our consistent pitching and strong bats,” she said.
While optimistic about her team’s prospects for the season, Nightingale conceded that youth could be an issue, especially in the early going.
“We are pretty young,” she said. “Given our numbers, we don’t have a JV team this season. With that comes some young athletes playing at a higher level than they’ve had to before. Focusing on perfecting the fundamentals will be important for us to see continuous growth through the season.”
Melody Antel began the 2017 softball season as Saugatuck’s primary catcher. She ended it as the team’s primary pitcher.
The move was one of necessity, as an injury prevented Emma Harry from assuming her usual post in the pitcher’s circle.
“It was a tough situation for (Antel),” said Wayne Lubben for the Indians under Matt Diaz who has now been elevated to head coach following Diaz’s resignation. “She had never really pitched before and she was forced in there.
“To her credit, she never complained. There were some tough innings, but she kept going out there and battling. She’s really a team player.”
Now a senior, Antel will again be asked to do assume some of the pitching duties for the team. This time, however, she is better prepared.
“Melody has had time to work on her pitching,” Lubben said. “I think she’s a lot more comfortable with it now.”
She will also have some potential re-enforcements in the form of two newcomers to the team.
Freshman Emma Walker is also expected to be given the opportunity to see what she can do in the pitcher’s circle, as is sophomore transfer Maddie Downer.
“Pitching is the key for us, like it is for just about every softball team,” Lubben said. “Melody will carry a lot of the load, but we have some other girls who will help out.”
Antel, who will also play some shortstop, is one of nine returning players for the Indians. Three of the others are fellow seniors: Harry, who will now play first base, second baseman Alexa Phillips and infielder Alana Abbott.
Junior outfielder McKenzie Barhill also returns, as do sophomores Josie Lubben (catcher), Kate LeClaire (second base), Ellery Gentry (outfield) and Paige Smith (outfield).
Freshman third baseman Grace Miller and sophomore transfer outfielder Siera Jones join Walker and Downer as newcomers.
“I think this team will improve as the season goes on,” Wayne Lubben said. “We should be able to put the ball in play and I think we’ll be better defensively. Like I said before, a lot of it will come down to pitching.”
Wayne Lubben expects Coloma to be the favorite in the SAC Lakeshore.