By Dan Hardenbrook

With Spring finally in the air, the Newberry Lady Indians Softball team will start its 2023 season when they take on Mackinaw City this coming Friday. This year’s softball squad features solid numbers, with a wide variety of experience, looking to take the next step in bringing the program back to a highly competitive level.

The past few seasons have been tough record wise, but longtime Coach Bruce Dake has been through plenty of rebuilds before. And he is excited to see his team’s growth that they have already shown early this season.

“Our games on Friday and Monday (at Cadillac) will help the team to see where we are and what we need to stress in practice,” Dake said. “I’m confident our defense will be much improved as well as our pitching. Our team offense can become vital to our success.”

Leaders have already emerged on the team, and the returning players continue to grow.

“We have Jaiden Egert back this year after missing last year with an injury,” Dake said. “Eight players are returning from last years’ group and they have continued to improve. We have four new players to our team this year, one from each class. We will keep stressing improvement, each day, each game, all season long and wins will come with better play.”

Egert is joined by senior newcomer Rayne Palmer, and Dake sees junior Trenidy Depew taking on a bigger role this season.

“Jaiden Egert and Trenidy Depew are our leaders. They have done an excellent job in including everyone into all team decisions,” Dake said. “The team chemistry so far this year has been very good. This will be important when games start and we are playing consistently.”

Depew heads up a solid class that includes Tayla Gravelle, Alanah Saldana, and Gracie Taylor. Sophomores include Allie Whalen, Sophia Johnson, Lilly Heim, and top pitchers Amelia Shanley and Alazayah Depew, who will be leaned on heavily.

“Amelia will be our main pitcher, but Alazayah also pitched last year and will continue to get innings. Both have improved since last year, becoming more consistent. Jaiden is a reliable strike thrower and newcomer Allie Whalen shows a great deal of promise and will get her share of innings.”

It’s a potential advantage for the Lady Indians, who will have a staff of available pitchers to match up with opponents who mostly pin their hopes on facing a single pitcher. Unlike varsity baseball, the MHSAA does not have pitch count limits for softball, so top pitchers can throw as many innings and games as they want.

Olivia Birk is the lone freshman on this year’s team. Dake will be assisted by three former Lady Indians players, including daughter Emma Gagnon, Carly Dubay, and Haley Stark.

While Friday marks the official start of the season, the Lady Indians have already been on the field. They participated in the annual Spring Swing preseason invite at the Superior Dome. That experience, plus a tough practice time slot, have prepped the girls for the season.

“Practicing at 6 a.m. has its advantages and disadvantages,” Dake said. “It is tough to get up and practice this early, but our attendance has been excellent. It is nice to be able to use the gym and not be interrupted. We are able to get infield practice in, but we aren’t able to see any fly balls. The background in the gym is also challenging compared to being outside.”

The Lady Indians have set their sights on getting better every day and taking aim at peaking for the District Tournament. A loaded conference slate will help them get quality competition ahead of that time. “St. Ignace, Brimley, Rudyard, and Pickford will be our main competitors,” Dake said. “We have a new district this year and we currently don’t have any games scheduled against our district foes, but the season will be aimed at competing in the districts.”