This is Zach Williams’ second year as the Grant Union/Prairie City Prospector softball head coach, but he’s led most of the varsity team members for nine years, coaching Little League, ASA and high school ball.
The Prospectors are hopeful to improve on last year’s season that ended in a state quarterfinals match in John Day with a 22-3 overall record.
Grant Union is dropping from the 3A class to 2A/1A in Special District 6. They’ll still face tough competition, however. They faced all the opponents, except one team, last year.
The Prospectors are fielding 12 players, including five seniors. There are five returning starters, including four seniors and one junior. There are several junior varsity swingers with 13 total on the JV squad.
Williams said he’s happy with the progress he’s seen from his five pitchers.
Senior Macy Strong is the team’s anchor and locates her fastball and dropball well with a good change up as well that she is working on locating in any count, the coach said.
Shaine Madden, a junior, was expected to be another strong pitcher but is down with an injury, so junior Taylor Allen has been working to get back in shape for the circle after taking about two years off from pitching, Williams said.
He said both Allen and sophomore Jesaka Culley locate their fastball and change up well and are working on a dropball. Freshmen Harli Grove and Grace Taylor are also in the mix.
He said they all “work hard at ‘owning’ their pitches and being able to throw any pitch in any count.”
Williams said his offensive lineup should be strong, top to bottom.
“We have speed with pretty good power at the top third of the lineup, good power and hitting for average in the middle third, and power and speed again at the bottom third,” he said.
He said they tend to struggle with slower pitching and are working on making timing adjustments.
Grant Union graduated five strong players last year, including pitchers Cody Jo Madden and Mariah Moulton. Moulton was also a strong hitter for the Prospectors along with Brianna Zweygardt.
While they lost a lot, Williams said they had a strong junior varsity filling in the holes.
The Prospectors are preparing for a tough 2A/1A league.
In District 6, Grant Union will face Adrian (1A), Echo/Stanfield (1A), Heppner/Ione (2A), Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii (2A), Union/Cove (2A) and Weston-McEwen (2A).
“Pilot Rock, Union, Heppner and Echo/Stanfield are always good,” Williams said. “Just like any other season, I try not to worry much about what the other teams are doing. We just have to take care of what we do.”
Grant Union’s defense will be a strong point this season, the coach said, adding the bottom line is always the fundamentals and doing the little things right.
Equally important is “knowing the situation on every pitch and never giving up on a play,” he said.
He has help from assistant coaches Lance Zweygardt, Amy Hittle, Brandon Culley and Mike Strong.
Williams said their expectations as coaches are always high.
“We have been talking to them for years, and continue this preseason, about doing the softball part well but also being great teammates on and off the field,” he said. “In my experience, championships aren’t always won by the most talented group. You have to be mentally tough and genuinely care about your team to have the kind of chemistry that wins in the postseason.”
Seniors this year are Macy Strong, Hailie Wright, Madi McKrola, Marissa Smith and Kori Jo Girvin.
Wright, the catcher and center fielder, said they’ve been playing together their entire softball careers. She said she’s expecting this year’s competition to be a challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a good year to finish with a second family,” she said. “I think we’re really strong at communication, and that’s really important at this point in the season.”
McKrola at short stop said she believes they have the potential to go far.
“I’ve been playing with these girls for 10 years,” she said. “I’m excited that Zach’s our coach. He’s been with us since Little League.”
Girvin, who plays outfield and catcher, said the team works well together.
“I think this will be no different than past years. We’re all in it to win it,” she said. “I truly believe we’re playing for the team, and not a single person is going to play for themselves.”
Williams said this year’s seniors are a great bunch of girls.
“We’ve watched them grow up into aggressive, responsible young ladies that love the game and their teammates and want to leave Grant Union with a state championship,” he said. “They have and will continue to lead this team throughout this season, and it will be hard to see them go.”
Grant Union softball schedule
March 22: @ Lost River at the Rocket Invite in Pilot Rock, 5 p.m.
March 25: vs. Clatskanie at the Grant Union Spring Break Invite, 1 p.m.
March 26: vs. Nestucca at the Grant Union Spring Break Invite, 1 p.m.
March 26: @ Rainier at the Grant Union Spring Break Invite, 3 p.m.
March 27: vs. Sutherlin at the Grant Union Spring Break Invite, 1 p.m.
April 6: @ Union/Cove, 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m.
April 11: @ Irrigon, 4 p.m.
April 13: @ Weston-McEwen in Athena, 11 a.m., 1 p.m.
April 20: @ Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii, 11 a.m., 1 p.m.
April 26: vs. Echo/Stanfield, 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
April 27: vs. Adrian, 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.
May 4: vs. Heppner/Ione, 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.
May 20: State playoffs, first round
May 22: State playoffs, second round
May 24: State playoffs, quarterfinals
May 28: State playoffs, semifinals
May 31: State playoffs, finals
Angel Carpenter is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-575-0710.