La Grande senior first baseman Kendall Kirkland is one of few upperclassmen returning to the softball team this season. The Tigers went 12-10 overall last season.
La Grande is loaded with youth on the softball diamond, and time will tell how it handles pressure
La Grande head coach Lin Casciato is keeping most of his thoughts to himself, but he can’t help talk about one thing — potential.
That’s not a bad thing for a team looking to fill five spots from last year’s team that went 12-10 overall and 7-5 in the Greater Oregon League. The Tigers got hot at the right time last season, winning four of their last five games headed into the playoffs. La Grande knocked off La Salle Prep in a play-in game, 6-5, before getting bounced by Newport in the opening round of the state tournament.
But, Casciato, in his first season after taking over for Kevin Kohr, has wiped the slate clean. In large part due to the players he has available.
“Obviously, we want to be competitive,” Casciato said. “We didn’t have a lot of kids out for summer ball this past season. We’re a little behind where we would like to be. We’ve been outside just a few days. It’s a really short season — two months. It will come down to how quickly we can pick things up.”
La Grande returns a few players with experience —senior Kendall Kirkland and junior Brandy Blackman.
“Those two girls bring good solid leadership,” Casciato said. “They are very good working with the young girls on the team. It’s great to see players taking the lead in their success. By helping everyone out, it’s only going to help the team play better.”
La Grande is still trying to get everyone up to speed. The basketball players making the jump to the softball diamond are well behind the rest of the team. The Tigers’ run to the final eight during the basketball season was great for the school, but has set the softball team a little behind schedule.
“We’re just trying to get everyone up to speed,” Casciato said. “It’s tough when they’re not at our winter practices, and not able to start like the rest of the girls. It’s going to take time to get them ready. Timing at the plate is a big thing, and it takes time to get it back.
“With that being said, I’m excited with what they can do. But, it’s a short season. There’s not a lot of time to wait.”
Casciato also lost a player he was looking forward to watching play before the season began. Emma Travis will miss the season with a knee injury. She did a little bit of everything during the winter.
“Emma will be missed,” Casciato said. “She was there to catch during the winter, and brought a lot of things to the table.”
Sophomores Mattie Spencer and Addie Hagerman are two players that Casciato is hoping to get production from.
“Mattie and Addie have been here through the whole process,” Casciato said. “They’ve been taking a lot of hacks in the cages. But, hitting in the cage is one thing, and hitting against live pitching is something else. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes.”
The Tigers intend to carry 11 players on the varsity roster this season. That means only two players will be on the bench during games.
The eight games in the opening week, Casciato said, are going to give him a chance to see everything.
“I think we’re going to be able to hit the ball,” Casciato said. “I’m not too worried about that. We’ll be able to score runs.
“I’m more worried about the defensive side of things. We’ll get to move people around during the opening week and find the right fit for them. I want the players to enjoy the positions that they’re playing. It’s about getting them into the best spot we can. That way they have a better chance at success throughout the season.”
La Grande will open up the non-league schedule in Baker City Monday. The Tigers will play Payette, Idaho at 9:45 a.m., and Caldwell, Idaho, at 2:15 p.m.