Speed, defense boost home-grown Rangers

If you think you’ve heard the names before, and the faces look familiar, you’re probably right.

No less than 16 of Olympic College’s 17 softball players attended West Sound high schools.

That’s good news for the Rangers.

“The quality of high school fastpitch here has been very good,” fifth-year coach Natalie Martin said. “If we can keep those local players here, it’ll enhance the quality of our program.”

But there’s also bad news. Five of those 17 players are won’t be eligible to join the team until winter quarter grades come out on March 28. And two of the five are OC’s top pitchers — Carri Lefler and Jenny MacMillan, both South Kitsap products.

“Pick a level, any level, and pitching is always a key,” Martin said.

So if the Rangers get off to a slow start in their bid to get back to the NWAACC Tournament for a third straight year, there’s a reason.

Martin, however, has confidence in the makeshift pitching foursome of Linnea Tiller, Katie Leigh, Melinda Rust and Kalliegh Pheasant.

“Linnea will see the bulk of the innings, mainly because of experience and she can throw different pitches,” Martin said of Tiller, who pitched in high school at Sequim but was originally brought in as an outfielder.

Leigh, OC’s starting second baseman, pitched early-on at Bainbridge. Bremerton’s Rust and Pheasant didn’t pitch at all in high school.

“If they’re rewarded for their hard work, we’ll be just fine,” Martin said. “In team scrimmage situations, they’ve thrown well. They can get outs. That’s what we’re looking for. Even when we get Lefler and MacMillan back, they’re not strikeout pitchers. We’ll rely on our defense, which is one of our strengths.

“Defense will take us a long way. If we play smart and take care of the ball, good things will happen. We’re gearing our pitchers to get ground balls. If we get those, we’ll eat those up.”

Leigh, Stina Blockhus (Bremerton) and Kelly Lincoln (North Mason) give the Rangers strong defense up the middle. First baseman Anna Bagala (North Kitsap) and third basemen Rebecca DeRusha (Central Kitsap) and Rust will be at the corners. Leigh and outfielder Aubrey Sumner of Central Kitsap are the only returners from a team that was 23-20 a year ago. Sumner will likely start the season in center field until Michelle Gutierrez (Olympic) becomes eligible.

The only other sophomore is Michelle McGregor, a 25-year-old catcher/infielder who graduated from Newport High and played softball at Bellevue CC in 1997 before joining the Army. Her family now lives in Allyn.

Martin likes the potential of this group.

“We’re deep everywhere, which is kind of nice,” she said. “We have a lot more team speed than we’ve had in my tenure. They’re smart, aggressive base-runners. We’re going to take advantage of everything the defense gives us.

“We have a very good group of freshmen. Obviously, they’re going to have to contribute right away. I think they will. We’ll learn more this weekend about what kind of hitting team we’ll be.”

The Rangers open the season today with a doubleheader at Wenatchee. OC hits the road again for a March 16-17 tournament at Richland.

OC’s first home doubleheader is March 30 against NWAACC Northern Division rival Edmonds at Pendergast Regional Park.

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