Trio of Falcon youngsters make all-conference softball team
By BEN WATANABE
South Whidbey Record Sports, South Whidbey School District, South Whidbey Fire/EMS
June 15, 2012 · Updated 2:54 PM
LANGLEY — Whoever said, “Three’s a crowd,” must have stated it before meeting Chantel Brown, Mackenzie Hezel and Alex Kubeska.
The three Falcon softball sluggers were each voted to the all-Cascade Conference team this spring. All three will be vital to the Falcons’ success next season.
“These younger kids are going to be team leaders,” said Falcon head coach Ashley Lopez.
Brown and Hezel are first time all-conference selections. Chemistry and communication between the two sophomores has had a long time to develop; they have played together as catcher and pitcher since seventh grade.
And though Brown was behind home plate about half the season, she also played third base and left field. Catching is her preferred position and where she had her most memorable moment of the season when she caught a foul bunt that was curling over her head.
“There’s some games I want to catch because I’m in the game more,” said Brown, adding that she prefers catching during cold weather because the padded gear is warm. “It was nice to be recognized at the spot I wanted to play.”
As the leadoff hitter, her job was to get on base, run aggressively and score. Brown was a solid lead batter with a .470 batting average, .939 slugging percentage and team-leading 30 stolen bases. Though the slap hitter typically knocks singles, Brown’s speed allowed her to stretch some of those hits into doubles and triples this season.
“Chantel did very well in playing small ball and long ball,” Lopez said.
Cleanup was Hezel’s game this season, both at the plate and on the field. The sophomore pitcher started and closed games and batted fourth in the Falcons’ lineup — the cleanup spot. Lopez said Hezel made solid contact as a batter, but wasn’t a typical power hitter that crushed the ball. Rather, Hezel consistently hit into gaps and produced RBI behind a .464 batting average and .889 slugging percentage.
“No matter what, she made contact,” Lopez said.
Next season, Hezel will be relied upon often as the Falcons’ ace pitcher. That suits her just fine because she enjoys the highlights of pitching — strikeouts.
“Obviously, you like pitching when you’re having a good day,” Hezel said. “You feel like you’re in control of the game.”
The season had its bumps even during victories. In a game against Archbishop Murphy, Hezel was called for a handful of illegal pitches that led to several runs. Lopez left Hezel in until the fifth inning when Hezel’s pitch count got too high and the score too close. In moments like that, Hezel said she tries to forget about the last pitch.
“I just keep my calm and pitch one pitch at a time,” she said.
Then there’s Kubeska, South Whidbey’s most veteran fastpitch player. The third baseman and pitcher has a whip arm and a knack for fielding. Even though she made the all-conference second team, it was a letdown for Lopez and Kubeska after the junior was a first-team pick last year.
“That was definitely a disappointment for me,” Lopez said. “She is our best defensive player, and one of the best in the league.”
Kubeska, the third batter, produced RBI, stole bases and scored. She hit .596 with a .972 slugging percentage, including four home runs, 19 stolen bases and 17 RBI.
“I think I had a good season,” Kubeska said.
She may be one of the only seniors on next season’s squad. That means Kubeska will train more with a pitching coach and a hitting trainer so she can lead the Falcons on the field. Lopez also hopes Kubeska becomes a vocal leader and shares her knowledge and experiences in fastpitch with her teammates.
“I want to be better for my team,” Kubeska said.
Her favorite position is third base, but Kubeska found she enjoyed pitching. Partly out of necessity, Kubeska began training with a pitching coach in early March about a week before the season started.
“I like being in control of the game and I love the feeling of striking someone out,” Kubeska said.
With all the returning talent, South Whidbey looks to improve its fourth-place finish in the conference and continue toward Lopez’s goal of returning to the district and state tournaments.Contact South Whidbey Record Sports, South Whidbey School District, South Whidbey Fire/EMS Ben Watanabe at email@example.com or 360-221-5300.