Marlatt takes over youthful Cardinals as new softball coach
JOHANNESBURG – Kim Marlatt hopes to one day get the Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team to a point where it's competitive against Ski Valley teams such as Inland Lakes, the top-ranked team in Division 4, and Onaway, an honorable mention.
Marlatt, a longtime Little League and tee ball coach, replaces Ashlie House, who spent the past four seasons coaching the Cardinals.
Some of the players Marlatt coached at the youth level are freshmen and sophomores on this year's squad. That's good news, seeing as many of them will get immediate playing time.
"This freshmen group is a group that I've been with since the start of our Little League program and tee ball," said Marlatt, who also has coached J-L's JV girls basketball and volleyball teams. "I know their ins and outs because I've had them since they were tee-ballers. And I've been with the Little League program for the list five or six years building that program, so I want to continue to see it build (at the varsity level) and put J-L on the map for softball.
"We'd like to contend for a Ski Valley title, and I know Inland Lakes and Onaway are tough teams, but I think in the next couple of years, we can be there with them at that competitive level, too."
The Cardinals (0-2) have a slew of underclassmen, including some who saw significant playing time in Monday's season opener at Hillman, a doubleheader the Tigers beat J-L twice in.
They include Alyce Vermilya, Arielle Vermilya, Kamryn Kennedy, McKenna Hogle, Holly Kussrow, Jessalyn Marlatt and Maggie Wells.
"It (success of the underclassmen) can go either way this season," Marlatt said. "We were going to make cuts, but we can't cut our freshmen. Those girls are our future. They're a strong set of seven freshmen, and we have our seniors who have been there building the program, so we have depth at each position. Sometimes that can be a good thing, especially if one girl isn't on, we can put in another girl who can do just as good of a job. We've very fortunate about that."
Of course, the Cardinals will have a handful of experienced players, including senior Bailey Bennett, who finished last season as the Herald Times' Player of the Year. As a junior, she led J-L (5-24) with a .443 batting average and .671 slugging average. She also finished with two home runs, one against Lincoln Alcona and another against Manton, which were the first two homers of her career.
The only difference for Bennett this spring is she is moving from the outfield to third base.
"The outfield is more about needing to know where the play is so you can back up (the infielders) and make the occasional play at second, third and home," the senior said. "Third base is focused on the immediate out at first, twisting it out or covering your own bag.
"I'm just hoping to improve my defensive game since I'm playing third base now. Hopefully, I can improve my on-base percentage and hit a few more home runs in games this year, too."
Bennett spent the off-season by continuing to work with her private instructor, Greg Jones, a local legend who has helped sharpen the games of several former HT Player of the Year winners.
"I've worked with him all fall and winter, and I'm doing a session with him right now," she said. "Right now, I'm working more on my timing (while hitting) and being able to hit all kinds of pitches wherever they are compared to just getting my swing down."
Bennett said coming into her final season with the Cardinals as last year's Player of the Year is an honor, but she wants to make sure she exits this spring by giving it everything she has.
"Being the Player of the Year last year means that everybody has high expectations of me," she said. "My expectations for myself are high, too, and I'm trying to improve and better myself from last year. I hope to say that my four years playing Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity softball paid off, and I'm hoping that we can at least make it all the way through districts."
Other returners looking to continue where they left off are Chelsea Ramage at first base; Grace Boden at shortstop; Torrie Crandell at second base; Anika Kierczynski both at pitcher and second base; and Destiny Pryor, Jordyn Stark and Madison Hague in the outfield.
Mikayla Tranchida and Devyn McVannel round out the Cardinals' roster.
Cardinals' defensive struggles show in opener loss to No. 5 Tigers
HILLMAN – With the travel team experience the up-and-coming Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team has, the future is definitely bright for the Cardinals in the next two or three seasons.
But for right now, the freshmen- and sophomore-laden Cardinals (0-2) will have to take their lumps as they continue to improve.
That was especially so in Monday's opener at fifth-ranked Hillman, as the perennial Division 4 powerhouse swept the Cardinals 15-0 and 18-3 in a non-conference doubleheader.
"Everything should go up from here," said J-L senior Bailey Bennett, who was the Herald Times' Player of the Year last spring. "This was a good first game to figure out what we need to work on before the rest of the season gets going because it wasn't a league game."
The Tigers used a nine-run second inning in the first game and a 17-run first inning in the nightcap to pull off the sweep.
In the first game, Grace Boden and Chelsea Ramage each notched one hit for the Cardinals, whose defense gave up 10 hits in all.
They rebounded in the second game, however, and showed a spark that made first-year coach Kim Marlatt optimistic going forward.
Outside of an improve defensive effort, the Cardinals manufactured three runs, including two in the first and one in the second.
"In the second game, we actually started hitting the ball and fielding better, compared to the first game where we had silly mistakes and couldn't catch fly balls in the outfield," Marlatt said.
"They just started to field the ball better."
The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead after Alyce Vermilya hit a grounder that scored Madyson Hague, while Boden managed to steal home with Torrie Crandall at the plate.
They tacked on one more run an inning later after Maggie Wells scored on a passed ball with Hague up to bat.
Vermilya, Crandell, Boden and Hague each finished with one hit.
"I think our base running was more improved from our scrimmage (against Atlanta) last Friday," Bennett said.
J-L's downfall was its pitching and defense.
Wells started the first game and gave up eight earned runs.
In the second matchup, the Cardinals relied on three pitchers. Jessalyn Marlatt started, but the freshman was pulled after giving up eight earned runs in the first inning. Anika Kierczynski, a two-year starter in the circle for J-L, and Wells pitched the rest of the way.
"We had two young freshmen pitchers and catchers, and I think they did a good job playing against a good team like Hillman," Coach Marlatt said. "Maggie Wells did well in the first game, starting out as a freshman out there. Jessalyn struggled a bit, so we put Maggie back in, and we finished up with Anika.
"They didn't do too bad considering we had only two practices outside before we played this game."
The Cardinals open Ski Valley play when they host Pellston for a doubleheader at 4 p.m. Monday, April 17.
Coach Marlatt hopes to get her team outside some more to work on more defensive fundamentals before that series starts.
"We're going to keep working on some outfield things and going forward, we'll work on fly balls, footwork and that kind of stuff," she said. "That was our weakest area tonight."
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