Maybe Evanston’s offense will be so potent that it won’t matter who the Wildkits put out on the mound.

But entering her first year as head softball coach for the Wildkits, Luella Gesky clearly knows better than that. And the three pitchers she’ll count on this spring — starting with the season opener against Palatine on Friday at an indoor facility in Rosemont — only have pitched a total of one varsity game between them.

The spotlight will be on freshmen Zoe Kurtzer and Jaden Janzen, along with junior Jessica Garcia, in a sport dominated by what happens in the pitcher’s circle.

To further complicate the situation for Gesky, only three position players — all-conference Maddy Managlia, first baseman Emma Maxwell and outfielder Allie Nortz — can be considered returning starters.

Gesky, who moves up from her position as junior varsity coach, doesn’t have any problem seeing the glass as half full, not half empty.

“I think both of the freshmen look very strong right now,” Gesky said. “Of course, any coach hopes that you never have to worry about pitching because your offense is so dynamic. And I’m an offense-minded coach. But (fast-pitch) softball is all about pitching. It’s always important, and it’s hard to hide if it’s not good. Right now I’d say we’re in a developmental phase because we’re so young.

“In our scrimmage against the JV team, and live in the (batting) cage, Zoe has shown me amazing composure and control as a pitcher. When I was a catcher (at Waukegan West and Hofstra University) I’d rather have a pitcher like that, who can hit her spots and remain calm even when mistakes are being made behind her. I think Zoe is a natural talent out there, even though she’s new to the sport.”

Janzen is probably the hardest thrower in the group, with a fastball in the mid-50s (miles per hour), but will need to work on her consistency against varsity hitters.

“She has a lot more speed, and she’s a lot more forceful out there, but she can be erratic,” the coach explained. “She needs to learn how to work counts and gain control.”

Gesky may take a pitching-by-committee approach until the staff sorts itself out, saving the harder throwing Janzen for a relief role to throw off enemy hitters. “Jaden has the fire to shake up batters coming in out of the bullpen, and that can make a difference after you’ve slowed down their bat speed (against the starters),” said the coach.

“They’ll get hit and they just have to learn from it and get better. We’re trying to be very conscious of the position they’re being put in. Right now we’re having a lot of conversations with all of them about what their roles will be. We need a more team-oriented mentality here. We’re looking for the best team players, because this is a team sport.”

That “team” approach was obvious in Managlia’s case last year, when she filled in at catcher when starter Emily Mathyer was sidelined with a shoulder injury. The change in positions didn’t prevent Managlia from earning all-conference recognition as a freshman, and she’ll start this spring behind the plate while also seeing playing time at third base and in the outfield.

Nortz, a senior, will anchor the defense in center field — anything in the zip code is within her fielding range — and junior Maxwell hopes improve her power stroke in the middle of the lineup.

Evanston’s opening day lineup also figures to include senior Niya Wheeler in the outfield, juniors Karla Ramos, Cate Rudy and Aliana Alanguilan, and sophomore Gina Hopf. A freshman, Hannah Schaps, will back up Managlia behind the plate.

Cate and Wheeler should raise their on-base percentages with another year of experience under their belts, according to the Kits’ coach.

“Cate was up on the varsity as a freshman, even though she didn’t get a lot of playing time then,” said Gesky. “She’s a solid second baseman and a great contact hitter. I think she’ll play her role really well for us.

“Niya didn’t play softball her first two years and I’ve already seen a lot of improvement from her over the last three weeks. She’s as fast as lightning, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make a huge impact for us this season.”

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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