Speed propels MCC softball team into new season
McCOOK, Neb. — The McCook Community College softball team starts play today on the road at Garden City, Kan., the first of six road games in Kansas before the home opener Feb. 21 against Colby Community College.
MCC coach Mike Mendenhall is relying on key returners, 11 newcomers and a team that will pride itself on pitching and defense and a lot of speed.
“We are going to be a very fast team,” said Mendenhall.
The coach said his team relied heavily on pitching and defense in the fall. At the plate he and assistant coach Rachel Conroy want to take advantage of team speed.
“We’ll play some small ball when we need to, but we have some girls with some pop too,” said Mendenhall.
He said the 2024 version of the Lady Indians will be a running team, looking for stolen bases, putting runners in motion and applying pressure on the opposing defense.
The Lady Indians are coming off a 28-27 regular season last year.
After starting the season 0-9, MCC battled back to finished third in Region IX. At the post-season tournament, MCC beat sixth seeded Western Nebraska 4-1 and second-seeded Trinidad State 3-2.
Against top-seeded Northeastern Junior College, MCC led 5-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning when the game was suspended one day because of weather.
The next day, NJC scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to claim a 6-5 win.
That setback sent MCC to the consolation round of the double-elimination bracket where they lost to Trinidad State. MCC finished the year at 31-28.
“This is a good group of girls academically and athletically and starting to mesh well – even with our unpredictable weather and limited opportunities to get outside, but I’m excited for this group of girls,” said Mendenhall. “I think they want it bad enough that they are going to work hard.”
MCC has two returners who were named to the all-Region IX Division 1 team in pitcher Ella Covill-Marter (Queensland, Australia) and infielder Andie Suhai (Medicine Hat, Alberta).
Covill-Marter led the pitching staff going 12-10 with 20 complete games. In 174 innings pitched she struck out 235 hitters, which was ninth best in the country among 494 pitchers at 147 division 1 schools. At the plate she batted .333 with six steals and 25 runs scored.
Suhai, primarily at third base, led the team with 12 home runs, batting .454, reaching base 52 percent of her plate appearances and an .839 slugging percentage.
The other returners are Graci Nelson, Brylee Dean, Kaylyn Jackson and Ava Martinez.
Nelson, the McCook High School grad, returns at the catcher position. She appeared in 48 games, batting .257 with 20 RBIs.
“Graci is our number one catcher. She does a great job behind the plate and with her communication and leadership. She always has a positive mind-set,” said Mendenhall. “We’re hoping she can get her offense going more this year.”
Dean, (Gering) appeared in 43 games, batting .228 with 17 RBIs.
Jackson (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) appeared in 35 games batting .192 in 78 at bats.
At first base Martinez (Houston, Texas) hit .263 in 95 at bats.
While Covill-Marter is the only returning pitcher Mendenhall and Conroy – who works with the pitchers – are also excited about incoming freshman hurlers Lexi Knapp (Berthoud, Colo.) and recent addition, Sadie Kahl (Calgary Alberta), who transferred this semester from Bellevue College in Washington.
Knapp is also expected to get some time in the DP role and possibly some first base time.
Kahl joined the team in mid-January. Mendenhall said she knew some of the other Canadian players with MCC who reached out to her and encouraged her to come to McCook.
Several players are expected to back up Nelson at catcher including freshman Alex Mendoza, (Houston, Texas).
Freshman Laila Gutierrez (Seminole, Texas) is a utility player who has catching experience and can play third base. She also looks to be the top backup at shortstop and also plays the outfield.
Freshman Kendree Kern (LaSalle, Colo.) is another candidate at third base.
At second base Ayana Goodwin (freshman, Broomfield, Colo.) has emerged as the likely starter to begin the season. She can also give the Lady Indians some innings in the pitching circle.
At first base, in addition to Martinez and Jackson, freshman Rocio Mascorro (Brownsville, Texas) is a late addition to the team.
Dean will get the nod in left field to start the season, but freshman Kaylee Smith (Calgary, Alberta) has impressed the coach with how far she has progressed with her bat since arriving on campus.
“She has some pop in her bat, so she definitely has a chance if she puts up some numbers to be out there,” said Mendenhall.
In center field, Angela Banzet (freshman, Surrey, British Columbia) a right-handed thrower and lefty slapper with good speed.
In right field, freshman Anna Elliott (Calgary, Alberta) has earned the season-opening start, according to her coach.
Haylee Anguiano (freshman, Abilene, Kan.) is another utility player who is exceptionally fast. She played shortstop in high school but all-region player Suhai occupies that position at MCC.
Four sophomores were named captains: Brylee Dean, Andie Suhai, Graci Nelson and Ella Covill-Marter.
“They were elected captain and get a lot of respect from the girls and they obviously have different personalities and lead in different ways,” Mendenhall said.