Sports

Numbers and outlook are up at OC

"Natalie Martin got so used to coaching the minimum number of players last year, she's a bit confused about what to do with substitutes.I told (assistant coach) Brian Strege I can coach nine, and anybody after that is up to him, jokes Martin, the second-year head coach of the Olympic College fastpitch program.Martin can laugh. Now. Last year, the Rangers' situation was downright dire. For most of their games, she suited up the minimum nine players. An absence here, an injury there, and OC played shorthanded. The threat of forfeits hung over the team like a leaden-gray early-spring cloud.It wasn't fun, says Martin, whose team still managed 10 wins in its 35 starts in 1999. You couldn't do anything. You couldn't coach. You just had to put what you had out there and play it out however the chips fell.Never mind pinch hitters or pinch runners. The Rangers were in a constant pinch.That will change this season, after a bountiful recruiting campaign by Martin that will shore up the numbers and allow her to make situational changes, substitute for injuries and, well, have someone in the dugout besides Strege to talk to when the Rangers are out in the field.It's unbelievable, she says of the luxury of a full roster. We have options now. We have a pitching staff - not a pitcher, but a pitching staff.The change could make OC the surprise of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) South-West Division race this season. After having their way with the shorthanded Rangers last season, opponents might find themselves coming up short against Martin's squad.The conference gets better every year. One or two of the teams improves every season, Martin says. This year, we hope to be a part of that.The pitching staff she alludes to will be a key part of that. Despite an early-season injury which will shelve Klahowya freshman Bobbe Roberts for the season, the Rangers have a trio of hurlers they can throw at opponents this spring.Lisa Narducci, a South Kitsap High School alum via a one-season stint at Chapman University, should be the ace of the staff after transferring back to her Kitsap County stompin' grounds. But Bremerton's Melissa Duryea has a season of NWAACC experience under her belt that also will mean notches in the win column. Freshman Megan Lynn, from North Kitsap, is available to back up either of the two sophomores.Don't worry about catching - Martin sure isn't. That's because she's got sophomore Brandi LittleRaven back to lead the way both on offense and defense. LittleRaven, another Bremerton product, batted a team-best .466 last season.Brandi's one of those players you don't have to worry about, Martin says - perhaps a surprising statement about a player who never played behind the plate until her freshman year in college, when she strapped on the tools out of simple necessity. I just pencil her in at the number three position (in the batting order) and let her play. She's the team leader playing catcher, and she'd be the team leader anywhere else I put her.Joining LittleRaven as the veteran nucleus are the double-play combination of shortstop Stacy Melton (South Kitsap) and second baseman Chelsea Minyard (Bainbridge). Olympic alum Allison Parker is back to play right field.Also two years out of high school but playing her freshman season is Holly Thatcher, an All-Olympic League center fielder in her Central Kitsap High School days. Thatcher took last year off, but is back in full force this spring, according to Martin.Two freshmen, South's Heather Suppa and Chimacum's Marci Halvorson, will handle first base chores. Halvorson also is available behind the plate, should LittleRaven be unavailable. Stella Sebastian, a freshman from Port Townsend, shares third base with Narducci, and North Kitsap's Saskia Rudd backs up at both middle infield spots. Yet another former South star, Melonie Denny, will be in left field. Olympic freshman Amanda Cronin is available for outfield duty, as well.We've been playing real good defense so far this season, and our pitching is good, Martin says. I really think we could surprise some people who aren't expecting much out of us after last year.All Martin has to do is figure out what to do with all those players in practice."

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