Demons softball carries big expectations

JayCee Gleave and the Durango High School softball team set up the outfield fences Thursday in advance of today’s opener against Grand Junction Central at Aspen Field. The Demons have set up high expectations for themselves, too: They’re looking for back-to-back postseason appearances. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

JayCee Gleave and the Durango High School softball team set up the outfield fences Thursday in advance of today’s opener against Grand Junction Central at Aspen Field. The Demons have set up high expectations for themselves, too: They’re looking for back-to-back postseason appearances.

It wasn’t quite like this last year.

Before the 2011 campaign, the Durango High School softball team wasn’t coming off a playoff appearance, a 10-0 start or anything quite in the same neighborhood of positive results as a postseason berth.

As for this year?

Welcome, Demons, to the world of high expectations.

DHS returns six of nine starters from last season’s 12-8 team, including All-Southwestern League first-teamer Mackenzie Sill and second-team performer Mercy Lashway. Thanks to the returners, expectations are high not just in the Durango camp, but outside of it as well.

Still, sixth-year head coach John Bernazzani said that having plenty of returners doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.

“I tell the girls, once again, to not assume anything – to show up on the field, play hard and impress someone,” he said.

Senior Mikayla Jeffryes admitted that last year, for a time, it seemed like DHS had reached its peak. But after a fairly successful summer slate and a smattering of practices, she’s feeling good about 2012.

“At first, I was nervous because I thought ... we peaked last year, for sure, and I thought that was going to be the best season we’d pretty much ever have,” said Jeffryes, daughter of Brenda and Brian Jeffryes. “But after we got started and after I’ve seen the new team and the new team members, I think we can do the same thing this year that we did last year.”

There’s also the matter of replacing the starters lost. Corner outfielders Abby Surmeier and Alyssa Spencer graduated, and shortstop Taylor Roster opted not to return this season.

Roster’s loss means Sill, who played a solid defensive third base a season ago to go with a .413 average and 17 RBIs, will slide over to shortstop, leaving a gap at third that Bernazzani said could be filled by either Hailey Baker or Sidney Corbin, who primarily played first base last year.

“Shortstop is definitely different than third base, but I’m going to do my best to help the team out there,” said Sill, daughter of Chris and Monica Sill.

Baker also could figure into the corner outfield openings, alongside Aztec High School transfer Lexy Vidunas, Corrisa Bosick and Deryn Candelaria, while Cindy Kobrin could see action either in the outfield or at first base depending on Corbin’s spot in the lineup.

For the center fielder, this means adjusting to new playing partners in the outfield and quickly. There hasn’t been much practice time to get communication down pat before today’s opening doubleheader against Grand Junction Central. The confident Jeffryes, however, was undaunted.

“It’s definitely been different. Communication’s a lot different. ... They’re good. They’re solid outfielders,” Jeffryes said. “I think they’re going to be fine. It just takes time.”

Continuity reigns up the middle of the diamond, starting with second baseman Chanel McCloskey. However, the Bayfield High School product was cleared just Monday after suffering a strained medial collateral ligament at a basketball camp, so it may take her some time to get up to speed.

Getting back in the swing of things should be no problem for Lashway and pitcher Augusta Brockus. The two sophomores will combine again in the battery this year after a productive summer together, and Bernazzani had high praise for both in terms of their increased strength and maturity heading into their second high school season.

Alleviating some of the pressure on Brockus will be Vidunas, who played with both Lashway and Brockus on summer teams growing up. Bernazzani said he’s hoping Vidunas will help Durango form a potent 1-2 punch in the circle, particularly for doubleheaders, helping to limit the heavy workload Brockus dealt with last year.

“That’s certainly a best-case scenario to have an A and a B, a one and a two ... we didn’t have a lot of that last year,” Bernazzani said.

Vidunas also has the added bonus of freeing up Brockus to catch to occassionally spell Lashway, and Bernazzani said he plans to keep whichever pitcher that’s not in the circle in the lineup.

Replicating last year’s start won’t be an easy task, given that DHS’s Class 5A Southwestern League foes account for the Demons’ first six games of the season. But after last year’s unexpected jolt of success, it’d be hard to count them out.

rowens@durangoherald.com