Union/Cove’s Jaiden Wright delivers a pitch against Elgin/Imbler Saturday. Wright picked up a win in seven innings of work. The sophomore has helped fill a need in the circle for the LadyCats after the graduation of the Class 2A/1A state player of the year, Dani Sturm, off last year’s state title team. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Union/Cove softball team searching to fill hole in the circle
Everyone knows that defense wins championships. But in the game of softball, sometimes the defense doesn’t need to work as hard with a dominant pitcher in the circle.
Union/Cove had one of those pitchers last season — Dani Sturm. She helped the LadyCats cruise to a 26-3 record last season that included the Class 2A/1A state title, the third in the school’s history.
Union/Cove allowed 2.17 runs per game and Sturm earned Player of the Year honors as a senior.
The LadyCats have been used to talent in the circle. Jessica Reynolds and her teammates allowed 1.8 runs per game during the school’s first state title run in 2008, and then allowed 2.93 runs per game during a second-place finish the following season.
That always leaves a head coach with one question — who’s going to be the next pitcher up when a senior graduates?
Right now, the answer is sophomore Jaiden Wright. She served as the catcher last season.
“It’s a little bit more pressure,” Wright said. “We were a little worried about making up for the loss of Dani, but I know we can do it as a team.”
Wright has earned six of the LadyCats’ eight wins this season, including a complete game win against Irrigon, 4-3. Wright allowed three runs, one earned, while striking out 11 and walking two.
“Jaiden has worked really hard all season long,” Union/Cove head coach Paul Phillips said. “All through the fall and winter she’s been working on her pitching. It’s starting to pay some dividends now.”
Union/Cove has also worked shortstop Keesha Sarman and third baseman Delanie Kohr on the mound during the season.
However, the LadyCats are even more dangerous with Wright on the mound because of who Phillips uses behind her on defense.
Sarman is a slick-fielding shortstop with range and an arm. Her ability to field the ball and make a strong throw from anywhere on the field takes opportunities away from the opposition. Kohr, a freshman, and Kourtnee Marriott both field well at third and second base, respectively. All that leads to first baseman Vikki McCabe. Not only is McCabe tall, but her footwork around the bag is improving. Her ability to stretch, standing at 6-foot-1, cuts down the distance the ball has to travel. In the outfield, Kindra Moore, Sara Good and Chelsea Houck all have the speed to track down the ball.
“We’re not just a pitcher,” Phillips said. “There’s a great defense behind her. There’s a couple freshmen out there, and the players are starting to blend together as a team. It’s a fun group of girls, and they’re a good team.”
But, Union/Cove isn’t only about defense. It can help take the pressure off any pitcher when the offense is tallying more than 12 runs per game this season and hitting .423 as a team. Wright likes to help herself out, too.
She hit a pair of home runs in a 13-2 win against Burns Saturday. And with speed and power, Union/Cove should continue to put runs on the board.
“The defense helps me a lot,” Wright said. “They always help me out when I need them. Our offense also helps a lot. We wouldn’t be anywhere without our offense.”
Union/Cove gets its biggest test of the season so far against Weston-McEwen/Griswold Saturday at home. The TigerScots are 6-0 this season, having outscored the opposition 80-16 this season. First pitch is set for 11 a.m.
“The players are excited for this test,” Phillips said. “It should be a great doubleheader.”