Balanced Panthers seek first GSL title since 2004
Mead sits atop the Greater Spokane League softball standings with a 14-1 record. The Panthers have a nice collection of speed, hitting, pitching and defense.
And, they believe, something more.
“It’s a pretty tight group,” head coach John Barrington said. “They all want to have success and they’re all contributing in different ways. The kids like playing for each other.”
They demonstrated that in their lone loss, a 12-8 setback to second-place University earlier this month. Mead fell behind early, battled back to tie it and pushed the Titans to the final out.
“Even after U-Hi we were talking, ‘Yeah, it was a bummer,’ but we moved on,” senior center fielder Jill Pecka said. “We don’t dwell on things. When you do get on teams that click and work together and have fun, you better enjoy every single second of it. It just makes your year.”
Pecka should know. She sees a lot of similarities with her junior season on Mead’s soccer team, which advanced to state. Pecka, a two-time All-GSL softball and soccer selection, will play both sports at Whitworth next year.
The Panthers are pursuing their first GSL softball title since 2004. With five games remaining, they’re one up over U-Hi. The teams meet in the regular-season finale May 7.
“I feel like we’re a true team,” junior pitcher Alisha Meade said. “We just cheer each other on. We’ve had a couple games go extra innings and we’d had a lot of good two-out rallies. We had two outs (against Lewis and Clark on Tuesday) and we scored four runs.”
Meade and Pecka are key reasons why the Panthers are in the title chase. Meade, who won 11 games last season, is 12-1 with the league’s lowest earned-run average (2.01). Pecka is leading or among the GSL leaders in hits, average, triples, RBIs, runs and stolen bases.
Hits and runs have been plentiful in the GSL this season, in part because the pitching rubber has been moved back to 43 feet. Mead has scored at least six runs in every game. U-Hi has tallied at least six runs in its 13 wins. That puts a premium on the pitcher’s control and the defense behind her.
Meade relies on pitch location more than overpowering batters. She’s walked just six in 91 innings.
“I just try to keep the batter off-balance,” she said. “I have a lot of movement on my pitches and I know I have my team behind me to back me up. If they hit a ball to the outfield, Jill is out there, Emma (Barrington) and Mikayla (Adams). We just have a solid defense.”
Meade pitches nearly year-round on school and summer teams. She takes roughly two weeks off every August.
Meade fields her position well and, after some coaxing, is contributing at the plate.
“I just like focusing on pitching and having a rest between innings,” Meade said. “(Coach Barrington) asked me (about hitting) before the season and I was kind of iffy about it, but after the jamboree I called him up and told him I wanted to do it. I’m not an amazing hitter, but I try to advance runners, RBIs, whatever I can do.”
Pecka’s hitting better than .500, but her defense might be as important as her bat. She made two outstanding catches against U-Hi and Barrington also recalled a recent game-saving catch.
“I have two older brothers who played baseball,” Pecka said, “so I grew up with them throwing me pop flies and me trying to make miraculous catches.”
Pecka was moved up to varsity as a freshman, then endured a painful sophomore year. She broke her femur in September, her thumb in May and her wrist in July. The thumb injury came late in the softball season, but she played a few games before receiving an official diagnosis.
“I didn’t do so hot because it was hurting,” she said.
Pecka has been a team cornerstone the last two seasons.
“She understands the game,” Barrington said. “She thinks a play ahead, knows how to get her teammates involved and she’s a great leader on the field. When she leaves, it’ll be a huge hole. The kids will miss her and the coaches will miss her.”
Pecka hopes to accomplish a few more things before she leaves the program.
“We’ve kind of built off our teamwork all season,” she said. “As long as we’re a team and we rely on each other, we can go as far as we want.”
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