WALLA WALLA — It’s one thing to lose seniors to graduation, which DeSales softball coach Russell Vera has had to deal with on an annual basis since taking over the program in 2009
It’s altogether different to scan the current team roster and concede that three important names have been crossed off, something Vera has had to do this spring as he prepares his Irish for the upcoming season.
Junior Molli Lesko and sophomore Allesyn Lyons, a pair of would-be returning starters, sustained knee injuries during the basketball season and will miss the entire softball season as they recuperate. And sophomore Brittany Postlewait, who also started as a freshman, has moved to Adna, Wash.
Lesko started at second base as a sophomore, hit second in the order and was one of the Irish’s most productive offensive players. Lyons held down first base, batted fifth and was one of the team’s best base stealers. And Postlewait took over the catching duties in 2013, which allowed Lesko to move out from behind the plate where she had started as a freshman.
“To lose three players like that, it’s just real hard to replace their numbers,” Vera said. “But I think we have girls ready to come in and make up the difference offensively. And defensively, I think we will be OK.”
The four seniors who left via graduation are starting third baseman Ali Zander and regular designated hitter Bobbie Prior as well as reserve outfielders Megan Hamada and Gabby Lizardi. Zander and Prior were two of the team’s better hitters.
All told, there are major gaps to fill as Vera attempts to take his team to the Class 2B state tournament for a fifth consecutive year. The Irish placed third in 2010 and fourth in 2011 before coming up short of the trophy round in 2012 and 2013.
But if it all starts with pitching, the Irish should be all right. Ashlyn Lyons, one of three seniors on this year’s roster, returns for her fifth season as the ace of the staff and one of the most prolific fireballers in the state.
“She’s just a great all-around softball player,” Vera said of Ashlyn Lyons, who was a first-team all-conference pitcher as an eighth grader and has been every year since. “She’s our No. 1 pitcher and also one of the best hitters on the team.”
The other seniors are Claire Conley and Brianna James.
Conley is a two-year starter in center field but is moving to first base this season in place of Alleyson Lyons. James will take over at third base, a position she held for two seasons before giving way to Zander, who was back on the team last year after missing her sophomore and junior seasons with injuries.
“Claire was a great defensive center fielder with one of the strongest arms on the team,” Vera said of Conley. “She struggled a little bit as a hitter last year after being one of our better hitters as a sophomore, and we’re working on that and trying to get her back where she belongs.
“And I don’t think Brianna will miss a beat at third base,” the coach said of James. “And she is a decent hitter, a contact hitter who really came on at the end of the season and helped us in the postseason.”
Alyssa James, Kathia Jimenez and Morgan Downing are the only three juniors on the squad.
Alyssa James started in left field as a sophomore and is a candidate to replace Conley in center field. Jimenez was a reserve outfielder last year and is battling for more playing time this spring. And Downing is a transfer student from the highly respect Touchet High softball program.
“Alyssa is a decent defensive outfielder who struggled as a hitter,” Vera said of James. “She has a great swing but couldn’t make a lot of contact. But she didn’t get a lot of opportunities because we often DHed for her.
“Last year was Kathia’s first year in the program, but she’s willing to learn and is a good teammate,” he said of Jimenez. “And Morgan Downing is just a good ballplayer. She played third base at Touchet, and we’re looking at putting her somewhere in the infield. And she can hit the ball. You can see she has been well coached.”
Four sophomores, six freshmen and a trio of eighth graders round out the roster.
Terresa Acock played shortstop and batted leadoff as a freshman, and she is expected to fill those same roles again this spring. Nicole Hamada missed most of her freshman season with a knee injury but shows promise with the bat and could work her way into the Irish infield. And Cara Hall is attempting to make the move from reserve outfielder to starting left fielder as a sophomore.
The fourth sophomore, Karina Aguilar, is new to the program and just learning the game, Vera said.
Freshman Kaylee Brown was DeSales’ No. 2 pitcher as an eighth grader and figures to fill that same role this season before taking over for Ashlyn Lyons in 2015. She was also one of the team’s better contact hitters last spring.
“She’s going to see a lot of innings pitching, and she also started in right field for us,” Vera said of Brown. “She has played a lot of travel ball and I see her becoming our No. 1 pitcher the next three years.”
The other freshmen are Celeste Langley, a reserve outfielder as an eighth grader, and first-year players Natalia Maiuri, Hannah Teklemariam, Katie Ankrom and Chinese foreign exchange student Ziyan Zhou.
Eighth grader Maddie Thomas is being penciled in as the starting catcher, Vera said.
“She’s another player who has played a lot of travel ball,” he said. “She can also play the outfield, and she can hit. She’s been well coached.”
Kaitlyn Beal and Liz Crowley are also working with the Irish varsity, in part because Assumption Middle School doesn’t offer softball. Neither has played prior to this year.
DeSales opens its season Tuesday in a single non-league game at Touchet.