After nearly two years since their last game of softball, the Greater Spokane League is back in action. With so many uncertainties following a season lost to the coronavirus pandemic, Mead coach Tiffany Casedy has a pair of seniors to count on this season.
“COVID has absolutely affected my program this year,” Casedy said. “I know for sure at least three kids, that would have been varsity kids, that just because of the year off their passion kind of left, and just didn’t come out.
“I know quite a few of my kids that did come out had to go get jobs or they got stuff so now they’re trying to figure out life when they’re supposed to just be kids.”
And as much as Casedy has relied on them, captains Tori Veter and Annie Brose have turned to one another.
“Having Tori by my side as a leader is one of the best feelings ever,” Brose said. “I know that I don’t have to carry that duty by myself. I know there’s someone else who wants it just as bad as me, who is going to encourage the rest of our teammates.”
Veter, a first-team all-GSL selection as a freshman and sophomore before losing her junior season to the COVID-19 shutdown, is a proven commodity on the field.
“She is an all-star athlete that is in control of everything we do as a team,” Casedy said of Veter. “The whole four years that she’s been with me she’s just been someone that people look up to. She’s been respected since she was a freshman and not just because of her ability to play, but her love for the game and her ability to kind of keep people focused and happy and excited to be there.”
Brose came into the season more of an unknown – at least outside of the Mead program.
“Annie is more of my underdog,” Casedy said. “She’s one of those players that we play anywhere. She’s team-oriented first.
“As a freshman, she was on JV and we didn’t have a pitcher, and she stepped up and she’s like, ‘I can do it.’ ”
As youth and high school sports have become increasingly more specialized, it is unusual to have a player begin pitching so late and be successful on the mound.
“I saw that our team needed a pitcher in the future,” Brose said. “So I was like, you know if that’s my way to get on varsity and get some playing time on the field I’m gonna start doing that.”
Brose has started each game this season for Mead (1-2) and had 10 strikeouts and added two RBIs before Veter hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat University 11-10 in extra innings on Friday.
“In my 11-12 years of coaching. I’ve never had a player improve as much as Annie has every single year,” Casedy said.
That improvement, and the hours dedicated to foster it, weren’t free.
“I had to work hard to get where I am today,” said Brose, who is committed to pitch at Whitworth next season.
The duo is tentative about labeling their leadership styles, individually and as a pair.
“We kind of balance each other out,” Veter said. “She’s more, like, I wouldn’t say, intense, but I’m definitely a lot more relaxed.”
So, Veter is the proverbial good cop and Brose the bad cop?
“I would not say that we are good cop/bad cop,” Brose said. “I’m the type that’s like, ‘all right let’s get it done, let’s get it going,’ fired up, and she’s like, ‘hey, let’s get the next play! We can do better!’
“So, yes, I’m probably the bad cop.”
Regardless of designation or characterization, Brose and Veter have turned into a great combination for Casedy and the Panthers.
4A/3A (2019 finish/record)
Cheney (Great Northern League second, 6-2) is led by two-time GNL coach of the year (2015 and ’18) Gary Blake. Despite a great deal of roster turnover, Cheney returns its starting pitcher – senior all-league honoree Bella King. “Our success this year will depend on just how quickly we can assimilate those new players into our program,” Blake said.
Ferris (seventh, 4-10) is one of the least affected by having last year off as seven starters return for coach Linda Bushinski in the third year of her second stint at the helm. Katelyn Strauss was an all-league infielder in 2019, and she’s moved to the circle, where she’s already had a 21-strikeout game this season.
Gonzaga Prep (eighth, 3-11) coach Jill Benson is back for her sixth season and with her are five returning starters, including her daughter, junior pitcher Bailey Benson, a second-team all-GSL pick in 2019. Seniors Maddi Murphy (catcher), Grace Ducharme (3B) and Cassidy Voelker (utility) have all started since their freshman season.
Lewis and Clark (fifth, 8-6) has just three returning starters. Coach Paul Neff returns for his 16th season and will have to work quickly to bring along his young talent, as the Tigers have just two seniors. “Defensively we are solid and we should score some runs,” Neff said. “Pitching will be a challenge.”
Mt. Spokane (first, 11-1) is coming off a GSL title, its first in coach Carl Adams’ 20 seasons as coach, and figures to challenge for another despite losing six starters to graduation. Senior Morgan Flesland, an Oregon State signee and first-team all-state pick, will lead. “We are fortunate to return a senior in the circle (Flesland) who will keep us in games while we work to get back into form offensively and defensively,” Adams said.
University (third, 12-2) has won seven league titles and placed in state twice – including a 4A state title in 2003 – under coach Jon Schuh. Senior shortstop Abby Boden will lead the way for a largely unproven group, including five ninth-graders. “It won’t be how we start but how we finish that will determine if we had a successful season,” Schuh said.
Clarkston (GNL fifth 1-7) will be starting four ninth graders this season, and fifth-year coach Shane Burke is going to lean on senior catcher Hanna Murphy for leadership. Emma McManigle will be in the circle most nights while fellow frosh Leah Copeland is at short.
North Central (10th, 0-12) has a pair of all-league players returning for fourth-year coach Chris Lester: pitcher/utility Isabella Bay and catcher/utility Mia Sebesta. Lester lauded her squad for their willingness “to do anything to contribute to the team’s success.”
Othello (CWAC third, 9-4) has eight starters back for coach Rudy Ochoa (23rd season), including all-CWAC senior catcher Emily Garza and junior picher/3B Maya Valdez. “We are looking forward to battling some very strong teams here in the GSL,” Ochoa said.
Rogers (ninth, 2-10) coach Cris Coffield lost a trio of all-GSL honorees to graduation from a team that went 2-10 in league play last season. All-league seniors Jaelynn Proctor and Destiny Sandbergen will lead. “We will have a strong battery with newcomer Jamie Olsen and catcher Jaelynn Proctor,” Coffield said.
Shadle Park (fourth, 8-4) juniors Chloe Flerchinger and Teagan Webster earned second-team utility all-league honors in ninth grade and will make a mark this year with Flerchinger in the circle and Webster patrolling the outfield. Crimson Rice gives Shadle a 1-2 punch pitching.
West Valley (GNL first, 8-0) third-year coach Brian Ostby only has one starter back from ’19. “We have lost key position players and had a low athlete turnout this year,” he said. Senior Heather Penniman and junior Rilee Homer give the Eagles experience in the circle.
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