Expectations are high for the Butte Central softball team after reaching the Class A State Tournament last year and coming up just short of playing for a trophy.
The Maroons and head coach Kelci Thatcher are determined to return to State this year and be even better thanks to the return of eight starters, most notably the pitching duo of Teresa Piazzola and McKenzie Gallagher.
Having eight starters back has helped Thatcher and the Maroons pick up where the left off last season, allowing the team to fine tune rather than figure out lineups and positions that teams often face early on.
"The first few weeks of practice as a head coach you’re always nervous trying to figure out where everyone’s playing," Thatcher said. "I’ve only had to make a few adjustments with what I with losing one girl from last year, so really it’s been a different set of pace for me."
One other thing helping Thatcher is having three seniors on this season's team, as well as a number of juniors who she says are like seniors due to playing against varsity competition since their freshman year.
"The leadership is phenomenal even though we have three seniors," she said. "Those underclassmen, you look at them as seniors because they’ve been playing at the varsity level in all their sports since their freshman year. Even though we are kind of a young team, it doesn’t feel that way."
Leading those seniors is the pitching duo of Piazzola and Gallagher, who along with junior Mollie Peoples and sophomore Kloie Thatcher gives the Maroons what Coach Thatcher calls, "one of the strongest pitching staffs in Class A."
Piazzola and Gallagher contrast in styles, with Piazzola often overpowering hitters, while Gallagher relies on her command.
"I couldn’t ask for more out of those two, they’re great girls who work really hard and compliment one another, pitching makes or breaks this game," Coach Thatcher said of the duo. "They work hard, Teresea and McKenzie put a ton of work in this off-season, and you can definitely tell they’ve improved immensely."
Offensively, the return of eight starters gives the Maroons one of the deepest lineups in the state, led by lead-off hitter, senior Shawnee Hjelt, and Peoples in the clean-up spot. Peoples led the team in RBIs last season.
Despite the firepower, Thatcher is hoping to see the team be more consistent at the plate, and wants them to focus on two areas: putting the ball in play, and driving in runners when they are in scoring position.
"We struggled a little bit the first part of the year, and only losing one starter is phenomenal," Thatcher said. "I’m confident in who we have now and the freshman and underclassmen stepping up to fill that spot.
"I’m just looking for more consistency. I was proud of the year the girls had offensively we had last year, it’s always our goal to get better and eliminate half the people in terms of leaving people on base. That’s just our goal, put the ball in play and at least make the defense work."
With the team coming up short at the State Tournament last year and having three seniors this year, Thatcher says that from Day 1 she has seen a more motivated and determined team.
One that she hopes can end the season with a trophy at that State Tournament.
"It is our goal to place this year at state," Thatcher said. "I thought we had a phenomenal state tournament last year.
"I think we’re starting off as a stronger, more determined team, these girls want it as bad as I do. For the seniors it’s their last go round and they want to make this season memorable and you can tell by their attitude the first day we walked into practice they’re ready to leave on a high note."