ILWACO — Under new coach Barbara Patana, Ilwaco’s softball team has been preparing for the upcoming season with exacting, energetic, fast-paced practices. Defensive drills feed them plays that are on the tougher end of the “routine play” spectrum — over-the-shoulder catches, dives to the side, charging barehand plays, long one-hop throws.

“We’re working on drop-steps, dives, short-hops, plays that are difficult to make in-game unless you’ve done them a lot,” Patana said.

Patana coached little league and travel teams, then was an assistant coach for Prineville, Oregon’s Crook County Cowgirls softball team, spending four years there until her family’s move to the peninsula. She has brought to Ilwaco the drills she and the staff honed there. Players are showing quick movements and reactions that will make them a good defensive team if they bring them to games.

Jaymie Patana, Barbara’s daughter and the team’s catcher, has been an Ilwaco athlete since the family’s move two years ago. At the plate, she has proven extra-base power. She says she is looking to improve this year against inside pitches.

As catcher, Patana tried to coax the team through rough innings on defense during last year’s 3-16 season. Arianna Bell, a similarly fiery competitor, took on a similar role. But they know they can’t take on too much of that burden on their own, and in fact both sound intent on dialing it down a bit.

“I’m working on being a better teammate,” Jaymie said. She is being a bit hard on herself; Patana was voted a captain by teammates. But she sees the team coming together more this year: “There’s less arguing,” she says.

Bell agrees: “We’re more prepared, more united.”

Bell, a captain since her freshman year, says her approach to leadership has changed over the years. “I’ve gotten more to leading by example, instead of (as much) by words….I’m trying to make sure I’m doing the things I say, put words into action.”

Bell has long been the workhorse of the pitching staff, but Barbara Patana plans to spread the innings around. Gracie Barnett is the hardest thrower on the staff, but also has the most advanced secondary pitches, the most prominent of which is her change-up. Freshman Kasia Kadina has pitching experience from youth leagues, and Hannah Hines worked on pitching during the off-season.

Moving off the mound will allow Bell to play shortstop, where she has stood out in scattered opportunities over the years.

The team needs a third-baseman to replace Aliscia Bravo, who isn’t playing this year. Junior Kaytlenn Whelden, joining the team for the first time, is an option at the hot corner, Patana says, due to quick hands and a strong arm.

Heading into the season, Patana says, many positions are still up in the air.

Bell and Patana were the team’s hardest hitters last season. The team needs more hitters to develop as it looks to improve on its 7.7 runs per game last season (they allowed 16.4 per game).

As always, fans should watch carefully when Bell is on base. She is alert to any defensive vulnerability — an infielder with her back turned, a rattled catcher, a throw from the outfield coming off-line. She has a knack for making fielders pay either too much attention to her or none.

The team opens at Seaside March 18 at 4 p.m.

Aaron Mead is a sports writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or aaroncmead@gmail.com.

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