The Blue Springs softball team has a new motto for the 2017 season – “Put another number up on the wall.”
On the home dugout, there are three numbers posted on the left side – 1996, 1999 and 2008. Those were the years the Wildcats won state title.
This year, Blue Springs wants to do the same as it returns seven starters from last season’s squad that won the Suburban Big Seven and went 20-5.
The team lost just two players from last year and returns the bulk of their core for this fall.
One huge return is all-state pitcher Reggie Kanagawa, who will miss the first few games of the season while recovering from rib surgery due to thoracic outlet syndrome, which she said caused her to lose feeling in her pitching hand at points last season.
Bella Andrews, Taylor Snead, Payton Minnis, Morghan Holland, Madison Lavelle and Savannah Maynard also will be return with some varsity experience.
“Last year all of our main contributors are juniors and sophomores,” Minnis said. “Since we brought everyone back, winning state is a reasonable goal. This is a team with a lot of confidence, and with Reggie coming back, that gives us even more confidence.
For Blue Springs to get to its ultimate goal, it’s going to need going to need a healthy Kanagawa, who is one of the top pitchers in the area and is a Brigham Young University commit. She notched a 1.27 ERA, with 177 strikeouts and just 27 walks while pitching and batted .400 last season, some of which occurred when she had thoracic outlet syndrome.
There is no timetable for her return but Blue Springs coach Jim Brandner hopes to have her ready by the Joplin Tournament later this month.
“I had it done around the 1st of May and I have used the whole summer to recover and go through physical therapy,” Kanagawa said. “I was released last Thursday, and I should hopefully be in full swing by the end of September.
“There was some swelling in my fingers last year. I lost at least two to three miles per hour on my pitches, and that makes a big difference. Sometimes when my arm would swell, it would be hard to snap the ball.”
Pitching until Kanagawa is fully healthy is Maynard, who has looked good in practice, her teammates said.
“She has some good movement on her pitches and her speed looks good,” Minnis said. “She’ll do just fine.”
With seven returners coming back, Brandner said he figures the pitching and defense should be on par or better than last year, which were areas of strength for the Wildcats a year ago.
The area they struggled at times was on offense. But it should help their cause that Kanagawa will be available to hit the entire season and Minnis, who hit .420 last season, and Andrews will be near the top of the middle of the order.
“Payton Minnis is a tough out every time she steps in there,” Brandner said. “We bring back our top six hitters from last year and they are really tough. We’re a tough out one through nine.
“We should be much better at hitting this year. We have seven starters coming back, and they have all had a full year of seeing varsity pitching and they have seen elite competition in the summer, so they’ll be ready to go.”
While returning so many varsity players is a huge plus for the Wildcats, adding assistant coach Lauren Eisenreich, who was a part of the undefeated 2008 Wildcat state championship team, appears just as big. She coached softball at UMKC and has helped improve the way the team practices.
“We created some workouts we call ‘everydays,’ that build the skill set a little bit stronger,” Brandner said. “We have made it more of a college practice. Lauren is in charge of a lot of our drills and what we’re doing. There’s so many moving parts in what they do in a practice in college, and it keeps everyone active and creates so many opportunities to learn the game. “Lauren brings that. She took what we did and added better drills. Our practices are much better than they have ever been. The kids have responded with a better work ethic.”
With all the returning pieces and the addition of Eisenreich, Brandner and his players believe it could all add up to a state championship.
“We’re really working hard this year, and are trying to be really disciplined to compete and get better so we can put another number on that wall.” Holland said.