Bearcat softball team looking to take step forward

Taylor Klein hits during a Scottsbluff High School softball practice on Wednesday afternoon. Klein, a senior, is one of six starters returning for the Bearcats this fall. Scottsbluff will open its season at Lexington on Aug. 23.

In Michael Gentry’s tenure as the Scottsbluff High School head softball coach, excitement and expectations for success haven’t been at a higher level than they are entering this season.

With the return of six starters that combined to generate the majority of last year’s offensive production, the Bearcats look poised to take the next step forward this fall.

“I really feel that this is the most talent we’ve had coming back since I’ve been here,” said Gentry, who’s in his seventh season guiding the Bearcats. “Practices have been going very well. The kids are focused on being great and they’re practicing that way.”

Lighting up the scoreboard with big offensive numbers shouldn’t be a problem for Scottsbluff. Five of the six returning starters batted .372 or higher a year ago. That group is led by sophomore Brady Laucomer, who finished with a .446 batting average during her freshman campaign. Laucomer, who was named the Star-Herald’s All-Region Softball Player of the Year last season, also led the Bearcats offensively with 35 runs batted in and 34 runs scored. She also belted three homers and nine doubles.

Mariyah Avila, another sophomore, finished right behind Laucomer last year with a .417 batting average. She scored 20 runs.

Senior standout Taylor Klein returns to provide the Bearcats with the most experience. Klein, who’s been a starter since she joined the team as a freshman, batted .392 last year as a junior. She also finished with 21 runs batted in, 19 runs scored and a pair of homers. The savvy infielder is poised for a big finish to her prep career.

Talera Kinsey, a senior catcher, returns after batting .372 a season ago.

Two juniors round out Scottsbluff’s returning group of starters. Tierney Schleve batted .321 with 19 runs scored last year, while Maddie Johnston hit .247 with 21 runs scored.

“We have a lot of kids back who can swing the stick,” Gentry said. “They had fabulous summers. Hopefully we continue to take steps forward and keep getting better with each game.”

The Bearcats also welcome back four other varsity letter winners who combined to play a number of innings a year ago. That group includes seniors Hope Schanaman and Maddy Narvias, junior Kymber Shallenberger, and sophomore Alex Jones.

Shallenberger batted .354 last season with 21 runs batted in and three homers.

Jones finished her freshman season with a batting average of .385 with 12 runs scored.

While Scottsbluff is heavy on experience at the plate, the same can’t be said for the pitching circle. Jordyn Grasmick was responsible for tossing all but 18 innings as a senior last year.

Gentry said he’s confident a number of hurlers will be able to step into the circle this season and provide the team with solid production.

“Any time you have to replace a key player like Jordyn Grasmick, who pitched a heavy amount of innings last season, it’s tough,” he said. “I don’t feel we have just one person to step up and do that, but I feel we have multiple people to step up. Keela Peters had a great summer and so did Kymber Shallenberger. Angelica Anaya really improved her game as well. It’s going to be a staff by committee.”

The softball postseason in the state of Nebraska will look a bit different this year. Just like volleyball, basketball and soccer, Class B softball will now use sub-district and district rounds to decide the field for the state tournament.

Scottsbluff, Gering, Alliance, and Chadron will make up the B-10 sub-district. Whichever team is highest in wildcard points at the postseason cutoff date will host the sub-district tournament.

The 10 sub-district winners will then be joined by six wildcard teams in the district round. The eight winners of the district finals will qualify for state.

Scottsbluff will open its season on Aug. 23 at Lexington.

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Jeremy Woznick is the sports editor for the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9048 or by emailing jwoznick@starherald.com.

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