Gervais softball team uses the summer months to build experience in anticipation of the 2014 season

After a winless campaign in 2013 in which the team’s top four players graduated, the Gervais softball team has a lot of work to do to catch up with the rest of the West Valley League. Fortunately for fans of the Cougars, the team was almost immediately back to work after the spring season ended in May.

“We had a lot of our younger players – a lot more of our JV players make a commitment this summer,” said coach Kyle Buse.

Gervais finished its summer schedule on July 13, going winless in nine games through two tournaments. During the summer, the wins and losses are largely meaningless considering that very little is at stake and most teams are unable to field full varsity teams due to commitments to work, family and vacation. Instead, Buse sees value in the amount of time his young players are seeing during live action on the field.

“We got a total of nine games — which was half of our varsity season — in a two week period,” said Buse. “We gained a lot of experience in the two tournaments we played.”

The Cougars are set to enter the 2014 with a fairly young team. Six players from this past spring varsity season were either freshmen or sophomores, and most of them will be thrust into larger roles once next season starts in March. Add in a few new young players from the junior varsity team to replace the outgoing seniors, and Buse sees the summer as the best time for his girls to gain valuable practice time and work out the kinks in fielding, throwing and decision making that comes from inexperience.

“Gervais wasn’t playing softball last year in June and July, and this year we were,” Buse said. “That was the biggest thing we were looking to gain this summer, which was the experience.”

With most of the summer league action seen by up-and-coming players, Buse was able to witness a lot of improvement from players expected to make an impact on next year’s team. He pointed out to starting pitcher Emily Saalfeld, who was the Cougars’ primary weapon on the mound this spring despite the fact that she was still learning her position.

Saalfeld was the team’s most consistent player from the varsity team to play during the summer league schedule. With a full season of play under belt, along with plenty of action during the summer, Buse expects to see a marked improvement for the incoming junior athlete.

“She’s come a long way,” said Buse, who pointed out that Saalfeld used the past few months to develop a curveball. “She’s gaining a lot more confidence in her changeup as well, and that just comes with experience and being able to pitch two or three times a week in the offseason, and last year she wasn’t doing that.”

Another veteran player, incoming senior Maddi McPherson, was able to make it out for one of the two tournaments to practice at shortstop. McPherson filled in as a utility player for much of her junior year, playing mostly on the left side of the infield as needed. Buse expects her to take over the starting role at shortstop, which was left vacant after Second Team All League senior Amy Stott graduated.

“I think Maddi is going to do fine at shortstop,” said Buse. “She will definitely be able to fill that position. We were lucky to have her play one weekend for us, which is good because I wanted to see more seniors out.”

In addition to Stott, the Cougars lost second baseman Selene Ortiz, first baseman Maya Jaramillo and catcher Kora Phillips to graduation. All three were All League Honorable Mentions, and Buse used the summer schedule to search for their replacements.

“One of our biggest projects this summer was finding a second-base replacement, and Jesenia Munoz — she stepped up and was taking on most of those responsibilities,” said Buse. “Along with Lupe (Lopez) both were strictly JV players last year and are just going to be sophomores, but together they were kind of taking over that second baseman role.”

At first base, Buse is looking at Jaramillo’s younger sister Tiana, who is entering her sophomore year and saw spot time on the field as a backup last spring. Sarah Wargnier spent much of her freshman year recovering from injuries, but Buse said she’s been doing well this summer and will likely come into the 2014 as the frontrunner for the team’s starting catcher.

Buse also noted the improvement of sophomore Emma Bustamante, who spent all of last season as the JV team’s starting pitcher

“She’s come a long way,” he said. “She pitched a lot this summer and she has gained a lot of confidence in her stuff.”

With summer league over, the Cougars’ coaching staff will spend time during the fall and winter seasons working with individual players in anticipation of the coming season. While the 2014 season is still eight months away, Gervais is hoping the hard work in the offseason will produce tangible results in time.

“I’m pleased with everyone’s development,” said Buse. “We’re seeing improvement.”

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