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GC softball has new look

By PAT McCANN 
News Herald Executive Sports Editor

Posted Jan 25, 2018 at 5:54 PM

 

PANAMA CITY — It was noted last fall that Gulf Coast State College could adopt the theme “A Season of Change” for the 2018 softball schedule set to unfold today.

 

Since then, the Lady Commodores have become familiar with that mantra and then some as they open with four games over two days in Clearwater.

 

And guess what? Head coach Beth Wade sounds more relaxed entering his fourth season at Gulf Coast than the first three combined.

Let that sink in a little. We’ll come back to it.

 

Gulf Coast lost its longtime home of Joe Tom King Field, located outside the Billy Harrison Field House, to the intrusion of the flyover project under construction to provide a more seamless link to 23rd Street and U.S. 98. The new field will be located across 23rd Street.

The Lady Commodores will move into that facility in “a couple of weeks,” was as close as Wade could pin it down. In the meantime, they will host their annual Visit Panama City Beach Classic at Frank Brown Park next week, and Wade said that they probably will have to host a doubleheader there against Chattahoochee Valley on Feb. 8.

 

Otherwise, Gulf Coast doesn’t have another home game until March 2, and Wade said that Frank Brown Park has fit the bill quite nicely leading up to the opener.

 

“We’ve been using the field and batting cages, and it allowed us to spread out a little,” Wade said.

 

The biggest change, outside of only two Panhandle Conference teams advancing to state this year where as many as four have in past seasons, is that Wade almost completely has remade the roster.

 

That was underscored in mid-December when leading returning player Kynadi Tipler, all-conference in 2017 with a team-high 53 RBIs and .439 average signed with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

 

That resulted in only three players — pitcher Kristina Manthei, catcher-first baseman Payton Burton and utility player Courtney Schweinsberg — returning from the squad that went 28-23.

 

The transition, to date, brought some inflection to Wade’s voice.

 

“I really like how well they get along, the chemistry,” Wade said. “It’s such a huge thing as far as being able to win ballgames; especially on the women’s side it’s a big deal. I think this group has done that. We’re real heavy with freshmen, but we’ve gotten good leadership from our sophomore class.”

 

Wade said that bonding within the group was noticeable in the fall when it seemed like a different teammate provided a spark in every game.

 

“We embraced each other,” Wade said. “It’s been a little different from other teams.”

 

Another plus was that Wade was able to sign pitcher Chandler Sparkman after the semester break. Wade speculated she would use at least four pitchers in the circle this weekend. Therefore Manthei, 13-8 with a 2.30 ERA last season in 131 innings, might not have to be a workhouse.

 

“Manthei should put up good numbers,” Wade said. “I think Chandler Sparkman will be big for us and Alex Watson should have a good year for us.

 

“It’s not on one person’s shoulders. Amie Hutchinson will pitch some innings. The big thing is Kristina Manthei is not going to pitch two-thirds of the innings so it should help keep her fresh.”

 

Wade added that middle infielder Alexis Shiver also can pitch, but probably will open at second base against St. Johns River today at 1 p.m.

 

“Game 1 I know (the lineup), but Game 2 I’ll probably make changes and the same with Game 3,” Wade said.

“I’ll probably shuffle the lineup the first month. It’s all about finding that right fit and how pieces go together the best way to be successful. By mid-March everything should be solidified.”

 

Wade said the Lady Commodores should emulate their conference rivals in using team speed to put pressure on opposing defenses.

Then again, the lasting aspect of a Season of Change is the transition in personnel. It also accents the biggest fear entering 2018.

“That we’re young,” Wade said. “We will have three returning kids from last year so there’s 14 new faces. Freshmen always have freshmen moments.

 

“But this is a fun group to coach, and it’s nice to have a good atmosphere.”

 


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