Pitching, offense take hit with loss of five Chips

Dominating pitching and a potent offense.

Those two elements were key in leading Manistee to a sixth straight district title and impressive 27-4 record this spring.

Both take a big hit with the departure of five seniors.

“We’re losing a lot of key players from the roster,” said Manistee coach Denise Lijewski. “We knew this would happen. They’re leaving some big gaps for us.”

Manistee graduated All-State shortstop Megan Vander Weele, three-year starting pitcher Destiny Blake, infielder/outfielder Tyla Tarnowski and outfielders Jamee Fugere and Mari Stockman.

“It’s going to be sad to see some of the seniors that were so key to this team go,” incoming senior Haley Maser said after a 9-1 loss to Central Montcalm in a Division 3 regional semifinal on June 8. “It’s going to be rough.”

The quintet of seniors posted five of the top seven batting averages on the team, which led to Manistee outscoring its opponents, 264-74. Maser will return as the top hitter (.455, 18 RBIs) while catcher Stephanie Smogoleski (.397, 27 RBIs) showed the ability to hit for average and power while driving in runs. They’ll need some help, though, next season.

“We’ll be working a lot on the offense during the offseason with girls that come to open gyms to try and prepare to hopefully fill those shoes for us,” Lijewski said. “(The seniors) were putting the ball in play, making the defenses work. There’s going to be a lot of work to do.”

Blake and Maser split the pitching duties nearly equally over the last three seasons. Blake went 13-2 with a 1.01 ERA in 89 innings as a senior.

“She’s leaving a big hole in the circle,” Lijewski said. “We’re going to have to see what talent comes out next year and who’s good enough to be on varsity to help Haley with the workload.”

Maser, who plays second base when she’s not pitching, went 14-2 with a 0.67 ERA in 90 innings as a junior, but hasn’t been asked to throw both games of a doubleheader in high school.

“She’s got the stamina to go two games, I think,” Lijewski said, “it just depends on the teams we face.”

Manistee’s defense took a hit due to graduation and will need to be reworked for next season as well.

“We had some of the younger players practicing in those positions to hopefully prepare for next year,” Lijewski said. “I’m pretty optimistic about the talent coming up.”

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