It’s reload, not rebuild, for Warden softball this season

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Connor Vanderweyst/Columbia Basin Herald Junior Aaliyah Escamilla is a key returner for Warden this season.

WARDEN — The dreaded “rebuilding year.”

No successful program wants to take a step backward, however, it can be the nature of high school athletics. Yes, the graduation of league MVP Jizelle Pruneda is a blow, but it’s always been upward and onward for Warden.

“We’re going to miss Jizelle,” head coach Wes Richins said. “She really turned into an ace pitcher last year, but we’ve got some young girls who are hungry.”

Warden will fill the Pruneda-sized hole left in the circle with a duo of freshmen pitchers — Kiana Rios and Biri Gutierrez. Rios just wrapped up her freshman basketball season with a South Central Athletic Conference East (SCAC) first team all-league selection.

“They’re throwing well, but we can’t really see until we get some batters in the batter’s box,” Richins said.

When the batter’s box will be occupied by an opposing player is still undetermined. Richins reported that there was still about six inches of snow on Warden’s softball field.

Eventually, games will be played and when they do the Cougars should score. A lot.

Senior captains Bailey Whitney and Ashlyn Yamane lead a potent lineup that features change-of-pace lefty slappers and girls that hit for power.

“Both of them (Whitney and Yamane) hit for high on-base percentage,” Richins said.

Jocelyn Chagoya may be most anxious for the season to start. Warden’s power-hitting third baseman missed the beginning of last year after sustaining a knee injury in a jamboree and had her appendix removed before the Class 1A state tournament.

Despite so many missed games, Chagoya homered eight times and will undoubtedly be at the forefront of every SCAC East pitcher’s mind.

“We’re going to be a difficult team to pitch to,” Richins said.

New additions include Jozzy Pruneda — little sister of Jizelle — and Kiana Enriquez — little sister of former Warden ace Aaliyah Enriquez.

Rebuilding is a dirty word.

The Cougars were a game away from playing for third place last season and have reached either the 1A or 2B state softball tournament every since year 2010.

“We expect to be there,” Richins said. “Our youth program has been really good.”

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