It’s been a long season for the Easton Valley softball team.
The River Hawks, under first-year coach Taylor Bell, ended the regular season with a 4-20 record. Three of those wins came in the last eight games.
That shows improvement, which is exactly what Bell was hoping for. She realized when she took the job that this would be a year of trial and error.
“Our record, it appears as if we are struggling, but we are building,” Bell said. “We are not struggling, we are building.
The roster is loaded with underclassman, housing just one senior: Kennedy Thines. Although that could be a challenge, Bell says the River Hawks have flourished in their roles, especially as leaders.
“My senior, she’s a great leader, but when we have such a young team and just one senior they’ve stepped in,” Bell said. “It’s amazing how they’ve stepped up and really helped this team. If they hadn’t, we would still be struggling.”
That includes athletes like sophomore Cali Beck, the River Hawks’ go-to pitcher and leading hitter. Three 8th graders — Jaysie Woods, Renee Hartung, and Dana Carlson—also come to Bell’s mind when she thinks of leaders. Woods has taken on a pitching role as a secondary to Beck. Carlson has been a designated hitter most of the season, which Bell touts as a difficult position to be in. Hartung steps up where needed.
With players that young, there’s been a learning curve. Bell, who coached middle school before this, said it actually made her transition as a coach easier.
“It actually hasn’t been that big of a jump because I came into a program that was so broken down because they didn’t have the stability that they need to teach them everything that they needed to know,” Bell said. “So it was an easier transition into this high school as opposed to maybe a different one.”
After that, it was just working on things. A big mental obstacle ended up being the age of the team.
“It’s getting them to realize that just because they are younger, they can still play up to the potential as a senior and have the same ability as someone who is older,” Bell said. “It’s really showing them that they can do it and they aren’t any different from the girls that they’re playing.”
She’s seen big improvements throughout the season, especially in the batter’s box.
“When we first started out we weren’t hitting at all. We were having a hard time fixing a lot of bad habits. We saw, in the first few games, it just wasn’t there,” Bell said. “We had a few practices and did some drills and they really got the bats going.”
Now she’s seeing Beck hit .400, with Kennedy Thines not far behind her. The team is batting .251 collectively.
As they move forward, Bell wants to see jumps in pitching now. Beck has pitched 88 innings this season, almost twice what Woods has thrown. Both ERAs are above eight.
Part of it is age, part of it is lack of coaching in previous years.
“I have Calli, and she’s done well but she’s taught herself. I’ve been spending a lot of time working with her on her spins and making sure she’s doing the right things to control them,” Bell said. “Then I have Jaysie as an 8th grader who has two pitches. I’m hoping with me sticking around we can get her going so we can have two really great pitchers. I want to rely on them both equally.”
Sticking around? That might be a foreign concept for the River Hawks, who haven’t existed as a school or a program long enough to build a tradition.
It’s a key to the storyline for the River Hawks and os why Bell has made it clear she intends to stick around: she wants to program to grow.
“Every coach has a different philosophy, and keeping that consistent with the girls is going to build them instead of starting from the ground up every year. That’s been the biggest problem.”
The girls are headed north on Monday to take on Marquette Catholic in their first round of regionals. For many, it’s their first postseason experience, ever.
Bell doesn’t see any reason why her improved squad can’t make a splash, despite their record.
“We need to jump on top of it right away,” Bell said. “I want them to stay disciplined in the box and make sure we’re swinging at good pitches, making the little adjustments. We need to make adjustments after seeing the first pitch.
“We need to put all the little things we have together. Showing up, having our bats on, having our defense on. Coming out and being aware of situations.”
Even so, they’ve taken steps in the right direction this year. Losing just one athlete, they have a lot to look forward to in years to come.
And Bell plans on being there to see it come to fruition.
“I have amazing athletes, they just haven’t had the right structure. With a young team, we’re going to make a huge impact within the next few years.”