By Casey Donovan Herald Writer
Change is in the air in softball. Old faces have left, new players have arrived, and new rules may change the landscape of the softball game in 2010.
But still, Stanwood’s Brittany Jeans and Sam Bingham are the pitcher-catcher duo that strikes fear into any offensive threat on a softball field.
The tandem — which has played together since the age of 10 — knows each other as well as Stanwood high school students know where the infamous “painted barn” sits south of Stanwood.
“I know her,” Bingham says about Jeans with outright onfidence. “If she looks like she is going to throw a high ball, I am ready to catch it.”
The four-year varsity players took the Wesco North crown for Stanwood, and scraped its way into the 4A state tournament by grabbing the third and final berth out of the District No. 1 Tournament. The Spartans finished seventh in state.
But the Spartans — especially Jeans and Bingham — want to see Stanwood rise up and take the crown jewel and win the 4A state tournament. The pair have honed their skills the past two years on the select club Lake Breeze fastpitch out of Lake Stevens, which is a season-long endurance against the very best.
Besides the extra playing and coaching they received, the new rules implemented this season play right into their hands. The Washington State Interscholastic Athletic Association has adopted a new 43-foot mound to home plate distance. The National Federal of State High School Associations altered the distance from 40-feet, aligning high school athletics with the college and Olympic rules, as well as a safety precaution. That is the distance that the club level plays at, so Jeans and Bingham will continue to walk the same path that they were last on.
Jeans, who will be playing at Robert Morris next season, knows that her “stuff” is impressive, to the extent that she has added no new pitches to the already deadly arsenal. The Spartans’ pitcher-catcher combination is like a top-fuel dragster; a well-oiled machine with all the right components, that goes from 0-60 in a flash.
Jeans racked up 230 strikeouts, held a 0.63 ERA, and pitched all but 32 innings last season under fourth-year head coach Cherlyn Schander.
“They just know each other, they call their own pitches, they just know what works,” Schander said. “It is awesome having her on the mound, she makes it easy.”
Bingham, a South Dakota State recruit, hit .374 last season with a .402 OBP (on base percentage), and calls the pitches between herself and Jeans, which many coaches tend to do. Bingham will be stacked in the meat of the order in the third or fourth hole.
Jeans will be sticking to her same guns, using location and a ferocious rise-ball to make her impression in 2010.
“There is nothing new, I’ve just been working on each pitch and throwing them well,” Jeans said, “and how I would like them to work and make them break how I want to.”
And if in a situation that Jeans needs one pitch, something to get out of a jam?
“My rise ball,” she says without hesitation, “is my go-to pitch.”
But Jeans and Bingham will have to bring a team full of new faces up to speed to contend for a Wesco North title after losing Jordan Nemo, Corrine Stillman, and Carly Bosse.
But if the new Spartans don’t meet the expectations, Jeans and Samantha own what rules softball: pitching. And Jeans has the progression — from a honorable mention Wesco North pitcher her sophomore season to an All-Wesco selection last season — and the ability to take over a game if it comes to it.
“We have been together so long, we just pretty much know how each other works,” Bingham said. “It’s hard to explain, we just have a connection.”
But the Spartans are not alone with new faces christening the scene. Arlington is in a major rebuilding phase after losing its starting pitcher Christina Rayner and entire infield from a season’s past. And Everett and Marysville-Pilchuck were going through growing pains last season, and may be on the cusp of challenging for the top spots in the Wesco North.
“It’s a rebuilding year for us,” Arlington head coach Daniel Eng said of his Eagles that have incorporated multiple freshman into varsity. “I see Stanwood going again (to win the Wesco North), I don’t see any different… I just know that we are going to have a very competitive season, we need to get further than ourselves, and we need someone from Wesco (North) to take the state title.”
Wesco South preview
As far as the Wesco South is for predictability, it to is anyone’s opportunity to seize. The ultra-competitive league stacks Jackson, Shorewood, and Glacier Peak as the front-runners, with Mountlake Terrace, Meadowdale and Edmonds-Woodway nipping at their heels.
Senior Dani Jackman returns for Jackson, and feels that this may be the season for the Timberwolves to get into the state tournament. Since Jackman was 8 years old, she has worked with University of Washington pitching coach Eve Gaw. Her nastiest pitch is her drop ball, that Jackman says “drops off the table if its thrown right.”
Glacier Peak head coach Brad Johnson said his team was “shell-shocked” last season with Jackson, but handled itself quite well in its first season. Glacier Peak was the second seed into its District No.1 tournament, but went two-and-out to end the season. Promising sophomore Annie Reynolds made a big impact last season as a freshman, and returning speedster Miranda Granger headline the Grizzlies’ attack.
Cascade Conference preview
Shortstop Sarah Hensley was the 2009 Offensive Player of the Year for the Cascade Conference, and returns to take Granite Falls back to the promise land that is the 2A state tournament. Her stunning .625 batting average and .666 OBP made her a force in the league, and she even had an inside the park grand slam against Lakewood last season that shows with the power comes speed.
Tigers Pitcher Alyssa Arndt had a sparkling .083 ERA last season, with 10 shutouts and five one-hitters. And about the chance of a no-no this year? “She will this year,” Granite Falls head coach Candi Reeves said.
But battling Granite Falls will be Archbishop Murphy, which beat Granite Falls twice by one run last season. The Wildcats bring back another competitive group for its 2010 campaign.