SAN TAN VALLEY — Many spring teams enter this season with a lot of questions and uncertainty following last season’s abrupt cancelation due to the pandemic.
The Combs softball team graduated five which included four-year starters Reagan Foster, Jaden Bernhardt and Kailyn Aikens.
Foster was the go-to athletes for the Coyotes as she ended her high school career with a .386 batting average, .476 on-base percentage and a .572 slugging percentage.
While she was a threat in the batter’s box, Foster’s absence it felt most in the circle where she tossed 320 1/3 innings with 233 strikeouts during her time in a Coyotes uniform.
“It’s rough right now, pitching-wise,” Combs coach Tyson Morales said. “I don’t have a dominant pitcher. So with the pitchers that I have, I just have to be able to work with and try different things to batters off balance and hopefully mishit it. But right now I don’t have that knockout pitcher.”
Taking over in the circle this year is junior Zoe Levar, who managed to scrounge up a few innings her freshman season when she had a 1.91 ERA in 33 innings pitched and struck out 25.
“Zoe’s been with me for a couple of years now, and she’s giving me what I need,” Morales said. “We just have to be able to make the plays on the field.”
Levar was the starting pitcher for Combs during an 18-4 loss to Poston Butte on March 23. The right-hander allowed six hits and six earned runs in two innings with one walk.
Chesney Roberts came on in relief and also threw two innings. The sophomore walked four and allowed six earned runs on seven hits.
To go along with the lack of experience in the circle, the Coyotes also are a young team with four freshmen and four sophomores.
“I have to continually coach and teach and stuff like that,” Morales said. “I have some seniors that are there that can give me the leadership, but right now I just need them to step up and help these younger ones. I try to bring up two to three freshman a year to try to turn things around a little bit.”
The two seniors on the roster are Justyss Ducre and Hailey Bates, both of whom are return varsity players. Also returning are sophomores Emilee Payne and Anaka Perea, and junior Bella Proctor.
Many coaches refuse to admit when it’s a rebuild year, but Morales stated that it’s always a rebuild year.
“When you’re a coach, you’re always teaching and you’re always rebuilding,” he said. “The term rebuilding sucks, but it is what it is. It is a rebuilding year, the teams that I had before they were good, stellar teams, and I lost all that with the COVID last year. I’ve got good, young players, not a lot of club players, so I have to teach.”
This season will be a learning experience for the Coyotes, and Morales’ goal is for them to try to finish about .500 in an effort to give the team some balance and some hope.
“Just give them something to shoot for,” he said. “But I think we’ll be OK. We’ve had two tough teams right off the bat, we played (Surprise) Paradise Honors and got blown out, (Poston Butte) is a good team here, so I’m saying at least go over .500 and I’ll be happy with that.”