WHS hoping stars align quickly

Published 6:58 pm Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sydney Gurkin (left) and Morgan Bryant are two of four returning starters for the Washington softball team and figure to play key roles for the Pam Pack this season. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

The stars are there, but just how quickly they align will go a long way in determining the success of this year’s Washington softball team.
The Pam Pack heads into the 2012 season returning only four starters from last season’s team but it’s a solid quartet that helped Washington finish in a tie for third place in the Coastal Conference. Leading the way is reigning Washington Daily News Position Player of the Year first baseman Justyce McKissick, along with WDN All-Area first-team outfielder/pitcher Morgan Bryant, cat-quick third baseman Sydney Gurkin and sure-handed outfielder Kat Staton, whose fence-crashing catch during Washington’s Senior Night last season was one of the best plays of the year.
Entering the mix this season is a highly touted freshmen class led by Haley Hutchins, Haley Wright, Adriana Tyson and Catie Dority, each of which has had tremendous success in the travel ball circuit and at P.S. Jones.
They key for Washington head coach Doug Whitehead is to blend in those rising stars with the talent that already exists on his roster while getting the right players in the right positions.
“We have two of our top four hitters returning from last year and a freshmen class that, from what I’ve seen so far, has been hitting the ball hard in practice. We got a lot of girls that can hit with some power, but we got 12 girls that will be vying for nine positions and we are going to try to get everybody and opportunity,” Whitehead said. “They’re going to have to jell quickly and become a team. Four returners from a team is not a ton. Yes, we have girls with experience but not necessarily all playing together.
“We have four young girls that have not had high school experience and the four that do have experience are going to have to jell with everyone for us to become a team.”
While Washington will be returning some key players it has also lost some, most notably staff ace Brandi Harrison, catcher Shakira Lomax, second baseman Kristi Wood and shortstop Caroline Smith.
As the preseason continues, finding the right pitcher-catcher combination will be one of the key areas to watch.
Competing for pitching roles will be the savvy veteran Bryant, who saw some time in the circle at the end of last season, along with junior lefty fireballer Rebekah Langston and rising star Hutchings.
“I’m going to be looking during our scrimmages and our non-conference games to see who’s who,” Whitehead said. “Morgan has the most varsity experience than anybody and has thrown a couple of complete games last year and is a senior and a leader of the team. She’s going to get some time on the mound and she is also a very valuable outfielder for us.
“Having a left-handed pitcher like Rebekah is an advantage that most teams don’t have. Morgan has worked on her off-speed pitches during the summer and has been effective with that and Haley I have seen throw during the summer and she throws the ball well.”
Who will be catching those pitchers is still yet to be determined but Whitehead said he is open to moving Gurkin from third base to catcher. Also expected to see time at the two spot is Kaylee Jackson.
Though Gurkin played well at third base, it is a position that Whitehead feels he has some depth at which would make moving his senior a little easier.
“Gurkin was a good third baseman but we have a couple of girls that are looking at third,” Whitehead said. “Faith Benson has given me some time there during the preseason and we are also looking at freshman Haley Wright and Justyce. Justyce can play about anywhere I ask her to and can bounce around to third, short, first and outfield. We have some flexibility.”
Whitehead will also have a flexible lineup that is poised to produce some runs. In the middle of that order will be McKissick, who hit .442 last season while driving in 39 runs and smashing four homers, and with so many other talented hitters surrounding her those numbers could be even better this year.
“She is one of the smartest hitters I’ve worked with in several years,” Whitehead said. “And I think we’re going to have enough good hitting around her where other teams are going to have to pitch to Justyce. I don’t they will be able to pitch around her, we have plenty of strong ladies, good hitting girls that will be able to compliment her.”
If that scenario does take place, the Pam Pack offense could be potent, which is something Whitehead is counting on as he readies his team for its Feb. 28 season opener at Northern Nash.
“In this league you’re going to have to have offense to win,” Whitehead said. “Throughout the league our conference lost two great pitchers from South Central and D.H. Conley last year and they’re hard to replace. There may be an opportunity for us but with the younger pitchers we’re going to have to have a lot more offense.”