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The Lady Cougars return most of their offense and their No. 2 pitcher in Pucherelli’s 2nd season as coach

By Michael Hicks

Mike Pucherelli has a goal. The second-year Evergreen Lady Cougars softball head coach wants to build up the numbers in the program for both the varsity and the junior varsity. That would include a better relationship with the West Jeffco youth program. With 28 players out for the 2014 season, he’s headed in the right direction.

Pucherelli, who coached for 13 years at Platte Canyon High School, including his last five there as head coach, was 10-11 in his first year at Evergreen, tying for third place alongside Green Mountain and Conifer in the 4A Jeffco League and earning the 32nd and final seed in the 4A regionals. A repeat performance, or even better, will be challenging with the likes of defending league champion D’Evelyn and always powerful Wheat Ridge standing in the way, not to mention the return of state qualifier Valor Christian to the league and Standley Lake coming down from 5A.

But it won’t hurt that Evergreen didn’t lose too many of its top batters from a season ago. Senior catcher Sarah Kay, who led the team in batting average, triples, homers and RBIs and was second in doubles, is back. She’s joined by a returning Jessica Bellatti, the team’s sophomore shortstop who had a team-best 11 doubles, and senior Lauren Hawes, who was second on the team in RBIs with 15.

And while Evergreen must replace No. 1 pitcher Ragan Wickham — one of four seniors it graduated — the Lady Cougars return sophomore Katie Solis. She started six games in 2013, winning three of them. Solis was the team’s freshman of the year, filling in admirably while Wickham was academically ineligible.

“I give her a lot of credit for stepping up and working hard,” said Pucherelli, who said that she’ll start the fall as the starting pitcher of record but she knows that there’s competition coming up from this year’s freshman class. “I told her that there was competition coming, but she’s the kind of kid that it will make her work harder.”

Ninth-graders Ashley Johnson, Sydney Fairbanks and Emily Lauder will contend for the varsity team’s No. 2 pitching spot. Even if they challenge Solis, who had an 8.17 earned-run average last season, for the starting pitcher’s role, Solis’ talent will come in handy elsewhere, Pucherelli said.

“The other girls will give (Solis) a run for her money for sure, but Katie is a player. She’ll fit in somewhere even if it’s not pitching,” Pucherelli said.

Evergreen opens the season Aug. 21 at Englewood.

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.

EVERGREEN LADY COUGARS
Head coach: Mike Pucherelli
Assistant coaches: Will Caster, John Bellatti, Kasey McBride
Classification: 4A Jeffco
2013 record: 10-11, 4-3 4A Jeffco League
Players to watch: Meagan Mansfield, Jr., 3B; Sarah Kay, Sr., C; Jessica Bellatti, Soph., SS
Season opener: Aug. 21, at Englewood, 4:15 p.m.
State championship: Oct. 17-18, Aurora Sports Park
Outlook: Evergreen graduated four seniors, but the Lady Cougars are bringing five freshmen into the program in 2014. Coming off a near .500 season, which included a berth in the regionals, Pucherelli expects EHS to be competitive in the 4A Jeffco League. The Lady Cougars tied for third last season, behind D’Evelyn and Wheat Ridge, but must contend with state qualifier Valor Christian and Standley Lake, down from 5A, this season.