credit Hutchinson Community College
Not since that magical 40-win season of 2008 as Hutchinson Community College softball coach Jaime Rose had the returning experience she has when the 2015 season finally opens on Friday at the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, Texas.
Now in her 11th season, Rose hopes to mix 12 returning players (six starters) with a group of 11 talented freshmen and bid for the Blue Dragons first above .500 season since 2011.
“We are 2-3 deep at every position,” said Rose, who is 273-242 at HCC and has 311 career coaching wins in 13 overall seasons. “It makes decisions hard, but makes life easier when a kid is struggling. It will give us options that we haven’t had for a while.”
The 2014 Blue Dragons had a strange 17-25 record with 10 of those losses coming by one run.
Offensively, the 2014 Blue Dragons had a .331 team batting average and scored 6.26 runs per game with 34 team home runs. Four of the top six batters from last season are back in 2015
HCC SOFTBALL SEASON OPENING WEEKEND – COWTOWN CLASSIC
At: Fort Worth, Texas
Dates: Friday-Saturday, Feb. 20-21
Blue Dragon Schedule
9 a.m. Friday – Western Oklahoma State
11 a.m. Friday – Vernon College
3 p.m. Friday – Ranger College
9 a.m. Saturday – North Central Texas
1 p.m. Saturday – Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa
Injuries really prevented the Blue Dragons from excelling in the circle in 2014. HCC had a team 5.67 ERA and opposing teams had a .353 batting average against five HCC pitchers. But 2014 team ace Sidney Dey had her season cut short because of injuries, which hampered Rose’s pitching staff.
“You could look at last year’s record and easily say that we had a bad season,” Rose said. “When we knew going in that we had Sidney Dey coming off shoulder surgery, we were one pitcher short. We asked relievers to be starters for half the year and we always seemed to be a pitcher short.
“We scored enough runs to win games and we went through some slumps, but I go back to pitching. We were asking three- and four-inning pitchers to go five and six. That’s tough to ask.”
One of the great stories that came out of the 2014 season was catcher Sarah Rothe.
After putting perhaps the greatest season ever by a Blue Dragon catcher, Rothe (5-foot-9, Hutchinson) was a second-team All-Region VI player, an NFCA All-American and NFCA NJCAA Division II Catcher of the Year.
“She’s a rock,” Rose said of Rothe. “She’s going to not only anchor our defense and control our pitching staff; she’s going to anchor the middle of our lineup. She’s not flashy, but that loud, outgoing catcher, she’s our quiet leader.”
Rothe was HCC’s third-leading hitter last season at .378 with 23 extra base hits, including 11 home runs, with 37 RBIs. Defensively, Rothe was masterful, posting a .991 fielding percentage and she controlled opposing teams’ running games better than any Blue Dragon catcher before her. She threw out 35 percent of would-be base stealers as a freshman (14 of 40).
“It’s a huge advantage with Sarah and her returning presence,” Rose said. “Conference teams already know it’s very difficult to steal on her and when you put some doubt in them, that’s an advantage for us.”
Rothe is also a very good receiver and handler of pitchers. She will have three power pitchers and a full staff of five pitchers to catch in 2015.
The lone returning pitcher is sophomore left-hander Brittany Olender (5-7, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada). Olender battled through her own variety of injuries as a freshman. She posted a 9-9 record in 25 appearances with a 4.04 ERA. Olender strike out 77 and walked 13 in 104 innings.
Joining Olender in the starting rotation is freshman right-handed pitcher Holly Kelley (5-10, Cypress, Texas). Left-handed freshman Laura Phillips (5-9, Broken Arrow, Okla.), freshman Kristen Taylor (5-5, Richwood, Texas) and sophomore righty Natalie Johnson (5-8, Fort Worth, Texas) make up the Blue Dragon bullpen in 2015.
“Pitching-wise we are very excited,” Rose said. “For the first time in three or four years we have depth in the pitching circle and we have a good combination of pitchers. We have three kids who throw very hard and two kids who are thumbers. We can see it in our own scrimmages that it’s very difficult to go back and forth when you start mixing them up.”
With Rothe behind the play, three other Blue Dragon sophomores are set to anchor the infield as opening day rolls around.
Shortstop Lacey Hudson (5-7, Enid, Okla.) was HCC’s second-leading hitter in 2014 at .411 with 60 base hits (13 doubles, five triples and two homers). Hudson had a .610 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot. She had a .932 fielding percentage at shortstop.
Kailey Jenkins (5-8, Wellington) will start at first base. She hit .365 with one home run and 16 RBIs. Tayler Suhler (5-7, Hesston) played in only 28 games last season before missing the final 17 games with an injury. She returns to start at second base after hitting .365 with a pair of homers and 16 RBIs. Freshman Kelcee Thompson (5-9, Springdale, Ark.) will start at third base. Freshman infielder Sami Loos (5-10, Udall) will be part of the infield mix this season.
“The infield has been battling it out for nine months at every position,” Rose said. “It’s been fun to watch and the competition will make us better.”
Sophomore Taylor Bakker (5-6, Chugiak, Alaska) moves from left field to anchor the outfield defense in center. A third-year sophomore, Bakker hit .286 with three doubles and 20 runs scored last season. Freshman Nicole Pendleton (5-6, Edmond, Okla.) will start in right field and left field is still up for grabs as the season begins.
Right around April 1, Hutchinson’s depth will be even better with the addition of sophomore Alyx Bloom (5-6, Clay Center), who is currently the starting point guard for the No. 1-ranked HCC women’s basketball team. Last season, Bloom played 20 games, starting 18 after joining the HCC softball team. She hit .234 with a homer and six RBIs. She settled in at second base after Suhler was injured.
“Alyx is a kid who literally can play any position,” said Rose of Bloom, who played center field, third base, second base, shortstop and even caught a couple of games in the fall. “We will look for her to be a spark plug.”
Hutchinson is hoping to open at Fun Valley on Tuesday against Division I nationally ranked Butler. The Blue Dragons have 11 home dates, six in the month of April.
The 2015 Blue Dragon softball team is picked to finish sixth in the Jayhawk East this season.
(By Steve Carpenter, HCC Sports Information Driector)
– See more at: http://www.bluedragonsports.com/news/101902#sthash.3ylhLWuc.dpuf