Coach Mike Olson has plenty of holes to fill, as his Panther baseball program was hit hard by graduation.
Gone are the likes of Matthew Gretler, last season’s Pierce County League MVP who packed his bags for Corvallis to join the Oregon State baseball team. Also departing were eight others who earned all-league honors last season. That group led the Panthers to an Elite Eight appearance in last season’s Class 3A state tourney.
“We graduated 13 last season and had one more move out of state, so we have a lot of work to do,” Olson said. “But we are extremely excited.
“We have a young crop of kids chomping at the bit to learn, get better with each other, and compete at this level.”
Early on, Olson said, the Panthers will rely on four returning players: senior catcher Gage Miller, infielder/pitcher Austin Friis (a second team all-Pierce County League third baseman last year), pitcher Ethan Stevens-Day (second team all-PCL) and junior infielder/pitcher Gavin Ludlow (second team all-PCL as a utility player).
“We have a balance of juniors, sophomores and freshmen making up the rest of our squad, and can’t wait to watch them grow into their roles,” Olson said.
Olson and this year’s squad will see live action Monday when the host district rival Sumner High. Game time is 4 p.m. on the Bonney Lake campus. The early-season tests continue against defending state champion Southridge and Class 4A Union High prior to the beginning of the PCL season.
This is, by any standard, a great way to kick off a softball season: taking the diamond as defending state champions, with perhaps the state’s best player gearing up for her senior campaign.
That’s exactly the situation enjoyed by Bonney Lake coach Andrew Sage, who welcomed back a handful of honored players when practices kicked off Feb. 25.
Leading the way is senior Brooke Nelson, who is as dangerous at the plate as she is on the mound. When the Washington State Softball Coaches Association released its all-state team following last season, Nelson was tabbed the Class 3A state player of the year and was a first-team pitcher.
Joining her as a first-team selection was her sister Brynn Nelson, at second base; named to the all-state second team was Anna Hook, first base. Adding to the honors, Sage was chosen as the 3A state Coach of the Year.
Brynn Nelson returns this year as a sophomore and Hook is a junior. As far as building blocks go, that’s an impressive start.
But it’s just the beginning for the loaded Panther lineup. Also back in the fold are first team all-league pitcher Gabby Jones, second team infielder Shelby Welfringer and second team catcher Hailee Hagins.
If the goal for this year’s team is to match last spring’s accomplishments, that’s a mighty tall order. A season ago, the Panthers went 26-2, including an eight-game sweep in the district and state tournaments, a run of success that culminated with the Panthers hoisting the championship trophy.
This year’s campaign begins Saturday when the Panthers host a jamboree on the Bonney Lake campus. The first regular-season game comes March 12 with a trip to Gig Harbor and a nonleague contest with the Tides.