Sports

Pirate pride on the line

Marquita Espinoza knows something about big hits.

In 2009, the hard-hitting catcher for the Peninsula College Pirates nearly broke the school record for career home runs in her freshman season.

This spring, Espinoza and teammates took a bigger blow than any of her over-the-fence shots, when they learned the college is dropping the softball program.

Between pitches at a scrimmage last week, Espinoza mused about the upcoming season, as she and her teammates consider the gloomy news as a rallying call

"Whatever happens this season," Espinoza says, "we'll go out with a bang."

Head coach Jim Cheney leads the Pirates into the 2010 spring campaign with six sophomores and freshman class full of Port Angeles-based rookies.

At the heart of the order is Espinoza, a slugger who launched nine home runs in 2009 and looks to break the school mark for long-balls (10, held by Kayla Ralston) this season.

Espinoza, a 2007 Sequim High graduate, missed her first season of play in 2008 with an injured thumb. She rebounded nicely in 2009, hitting .306 with a team-high 22 RBIs.

Her battery mate is a familiar one. She and Carly Swingle, a 2008 Sequim grad, combined to befuddle high school players for two years (2006, 2007) with the Wolves.

"I can tell when she's hurting or certain pitches aren't working for her," Espinoza says of Swingle. "She does the same for me, too."

Last season, Swingle struggled at times with injuries and tough NWAACC North division hitters, culminating in a 3-16 mark. It didn't help that other team injuries whittled the Pirate roster to the minimum nine bodies.

But Swingle says there's plenty of reason to be optimistic this spring.

"The infield's really strong and (we have) 14 players instead of nine," Swingle says.

The hurler says part of her mindset this spring is taking more mental pressure off of herself.

"It can't always be on me - this (college softball) is more of a team sport," Swingle says. "I felt a lot of weight on me at the high school level, but Jim (Cheney) expects a lot from the entire team."

There are more players to expect that from this time around, particularly from P.C.'s four other returning sophomores. Dena Houser hails from Boulder City, Nev., and is considered one of the top all-around athletes in the league, coaches say.

Colleen Murphy-Carey of Port Angeles is a solid lefty hitter holding down first base while Sequim's Molly Fletcher (shortstop) and Laura Campbell of Port Angeles (second base) form an experienced middle infield.

Fletcher led the Pirates with a .392 average while Campbell (.302) and Murphy-Carey (.300) were no slouches at the plate either.

A trio of Alaskans, outfielders Heather Carlson and Cimone Trout, and third baseman Emily Garner, bolster a big freshman class. Joining the Pirates are five Port Angeles Roughriders - outfielders Marisa Christopher, Chelsea Rambin and Michelle Senf, pitcher Shana Butcher and infielder Madigan Winters - along with Port Townsend's Holly Newton, an infielder.

"I'm looking forward to having a full team," says Fletcher. "The chemistry is better from last year."

Cheney is entering his fifth year with the Pirate softball program. He took over as head coach in spring 2008, returning to a post he previously served from 2003-2006, where his teams went from 10 wins his first year to 20 his second year and 18 his third, qualifying for the NWAACC Softball Tournament for the first time.

Assistant coach Joel Lewis graduated from Sequim High in 1997 and went on to play softball at Palomar College in San Diego, Calif.

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