Lady Wolves looking for Brown, super sophs to bolster playoff hopes
Plano West softball took its lumps in 2011, as evidenced by the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
If there was an upside to last season it was that West put the wheels in motion to strengthen its future by playing six freshmen. Now sophomores, Kelsey Vining, Yoona Lee, Alyson Vick, Holly Neese, Margo Beck and Brinkley Castro have all played a part in the Lady Wolves' 8-2-1 record heading into their final non-district tournament.
"Having those six out there as freshmen has already paid off," said Mike Ledsome, West head coach. "You can just see it with their confidence level. You never know how players are going to react after that first season or how much work they will put in over the summer, but these girls have definitely built off what they did last year.
"Now, they are the nucleus of our team."
Those six will look to replicate the path forged by senior pitcher Victoria Brown, who has been on varsity since she was a freshman and emerged as the team's leader in 2012.
"Victoria is definitely our catalyst," Ledsome said. "Everyone feeds off her; she's that fiery leader you look for and everyone on the team knows how much she cares.
"How Victoria goes is how this team will go."
Brown, a big stick in West's lineup, is once again the team's primary pitcher. She will also serve as mentor to freshman Marissa Butler, who has gotten plenty of time in the circle during tournament season.
"Marissa has all the big tools," Ledsome said, "she's just working on translating those to the varsity level."
Brown will have a new battery mate as Beck is moving from left field to catcher.
"I think Victoria can teach Margo a lot too," Ledsome said. "And Margo is ready to learn; she is always asking a lot of questions."
Sophomores can be found across the infield with Castro at first and Neese at third.
"Holly had some injuries as a freshman," Ledsome said, "but she is definitely a kid to watch."
Lee has been bouncing between second base and shortstop, sharing time with a pair of freshmen as Jordan Stone patrols the former and Kelly Burke the latter. Burke is the third in her clan to come through West, following Paige and Amanda.
"I think Kelly is a little more athletic and has more speed than her sisters," Ledsome said. "Both of those girls are so poised; it's hard to tell they are only freshmen."
With one of the team's two seniors holding down the middle of the infield, the other (Kearby Milliner) will do the same in the outfield.
"Kearby has really developed for us, so it's to have her in center field," Ledsome said. "We are lucky to have two seniors this year that know we expect them to be leaders and have embraced that role. They should solidify the middle of the field and help those around them."
Vick, who has plenty of range and a good arm, is playing left field for West with Vining in right. Vining, the team's main left-handed batter in the lineup, will get plenty of action with Brown's pitching style leading to lots of balls into right field.
"Kelsey is so versatile, we could probably play her anywhere," Ledsome said. "You might see her in center or left field and we even used her at middle infield in the fall."
West opens 8-5A play at 7 p.m. Monday when it travels to Lewisville, but the Lady Wolves got a taste of what district may be like in the Allen Tournament. There, the team advanced to the semifinals by beating soon-to-be district foe McKinney Boyd, 6-5. West came from behind in the bottom of the seventh and ninth innings before pulling out the win in the 10th.
"It was so back-and-forth the whole way; probably one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Ledsome said. "I think that was a good experience for the girls; it was the first game where we had to win to move on, so it was like a district game."
West will have to win tight district games like that if it hopes to return to the playoffs.
"I think we're going to put more offense on the board than we did last year and defensively we are getting better," Ledsome said. "And that's what I expect to continue; we are going to get better as the season goes along."