M-CHS softball team looking to improve after difficult 2013 season

Abri Conklin and Peyton Keith work on their pitching during Panthers softball practice. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Abri Conklin and Peyton Keith work on their pitching during Panthers softball practice.

Over the past two seasons, the Montezuma Cortez High School softball team has struggled, winning just five of its 38 total games. But though it may be unrealistic to expect the Panthers contend for a state title this season, it appears that the team will be much improved.

Among the factors that could contribute to the Panthers improvement will is the maturation of all-conference performer Tayla Topaha. As a sophomore last season, the talented three-sport athlete led the Panthers in hits and performed well on the mound and led on and off the field.

“I’m excited for this season,” said Topaha, who will pitch and play multiple infield positions this season. “It seems like the girls want it more. We’ve been working hard.”

Hoping to complement Topaha’s offense will be senior Brenna Leonard, who led the Panthers with a .444 batting average last season. While Leonard agreed that the Panthers team remains a work in progress, she emphasized that her hopes for her final high school season are high.

“I want to win games, make playoffs and win state,” said Leonard. “Honestly, winning state probably would be a stretch, but I think we will be a lot better this year.”

Other players likely to have an impact for the Panthers include junior pitchers Journi Black and Abriana Conklin and junior first baseman Kitty Wallace. All three players competed on traveling teams during the offseason, and Wallace suited up for the Dolores High School baseball team last spring.

In all, 22 players are out for the Panthers this year, which, according to second-year manager Brett Martin, represents an improvement from last season.

“We’ve had a good turnout, and I have most of my returning players coming back this year,” said Martin. “We have a bunch of strong kids and we’re only going to get better.”

Asked about the areas in which he hopes the Panthers can improve, Martin cited on-base-percentage and defense. More than anything, Martin said, the Panthers must play fundamentally sound softball if they want to remain competitive.

The Panthers will open their season with a road matchup against Cedaredge High School on Aug. 23. The team will play their home opener against Delta High School on Sept. 6.