Highlands softball optimistic thanks to hitting depth, freshman pitcher
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | 10:55 PM
The Highlands softball team is in search of some keys — the figurative type.
For a program that has relied on specific players to perform at marquee positions, the Golden Rams are looking for players to fill important roles this spring. The answers might be found in the program’s youth ranks.
“A lot of names left,” Highlands coach Jennifer Koprivnikar said. “We didn’t lose many last year, but they were key players.”
Highlands is coming off a season in which it made its second consecutive trip to the postseason. Highlands (3-10) finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in Section 1-4A in one of the rare instances when all six teams in the section made the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Highlands was one and done in postseason for the second year in the row as well, losing to Beaver, 6-1.
“I think we’re going to do good this year, a little better than last year,” senior first baseman Bailey Beacom said.
Gone are pitcher Emily Cochran, third baseman Tori Lohler, outfielder Natalie Gentile and catcher Emily Bush. For any other program, the loss of four starters might not seem like a lot, but for a Highlands program that is in the middle of a rebuilding process, it is a big deal.
There are players to fill the positions, but the optimism of this year’s team is centered on freshman pitcher Jaycee Haidze. The time finally has come for the long-awaited arrival of Haidze.
“Jaycee, the pitcher, I feel like she’s a good impact on us even though it’s a new experience for her,” Beacom said .
Haidze was a standout on the travel-ball circuit and has not disappointed early.
“We practiced with her during fall ball, and she was good and kept up with it,” senior shortstop Morgan Oravitz said. “She kept calm and was fine through it all.”
Not only can she pitch, she also can hit.
“Jaycee just has a quiet confidence about herself,” Koprivnikar said.
Unlike in years past when pitching and defense led the way, hitting could be the Rams’ strength. Highlands struggled to find quality and depth of hitters throughout the lineup in previous seasons. Games needed to be close for Highlands to have a shot at winning.
“That has never been our strength before,” Koprivnikar said. “A good hit is a spark, and we’ve never had that spark. I think we have strength to keep that spark going throughout the order.”
Sophomore Kylie Zourelias will start at catcher. There will be Beacoms at the corners in sisters Bailey (first) and sophomore Joie (third). Haidze also will see time at third base when she’s not in the circle, and Joie Beacom is expected to be a relief pitcher.
Junior Rachel Blackburn will get the nod at second base, and Oravitz will start at shortstop.
There’s a uncertainty in the outfield. Junior Sara Sawhook will start in center field with senior Anna Holsing getting the start in left or right. Koprivnikar said freshman Maera Williams is in the mix for a starting spot in the outfield as well.
“I think it all meshes well, better than last year,” Holsing said. “We all get along, and there’s no drama. Most of the new freshmen play on travel teams, so they know what to do.”
Highlands will open the regular season on the road March 22 against Hampton and will travel open Section 1-4A play April 2 at Yough.
“I’m excited, and I think we have a good team this year,” Oravitz said. “A lot of people think we, do but I think we’re going to go a lot further than we have.”