Posted 2 years ago

By Corey Sorenson

Maria Winn-Ratliff

Maria Winn-Ratliff

The Western Nebraska Community College softball team holds its Fall Cougar Classic this weekend with contests Saturday and Sunday at Volunteer Field.  The Cougar Classic kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday when the TC Thunder team from Utah faces Northeastern Junior College.

WNCC will conclude the first day taking on North Platte Community College at 6:45 p.m. Other games on Saturday include Chadron State facing TC Thunder at 11:45 a.m., NJC taking on CSC at 1:30 p.m., TC Thunder facing North Platte at 3:15 p.m., and North Platte and CSC at 5 p.m.

WNCC will play three times on Sunday. The Cougars battle Wyoming at 10 a.m., Chadron State at 11:45 a.m., and Northeastern Junior College at 5 p.m. Sunday’s other contests include CSC meeting Wyoming at 1:30 p.m., and Wyoming taking on NJC at 3:15 p.m.

The Cougars enter the fall season with just three returners back from last year’s squad, which won a school-record 55 games and came within one win of a regional title. WNCC coach Maria Winn-Ratliff says the Fall Cougar Classic will go a long ways in getting the team ready for the spring season.

Winn-Ratliff said this is a nice tournament to gauge where her team is, especially with the 16 new faces that they have. “I think every year the competition is very good. It is nice to have some 4 year schools as well as JC programs,” she said. “The fall season is for them to understand the game speed. That is probably one of the hardest things for incoming players to adjust too. Also, we need them to understand our philosophy on and off the field.”

The Cougars only return infielder Angel Council, and pitchers RaVae Herrera and Shelby McGraw back from a year ago. Winn-Ratliff said that this year’s team has plenty of potential.  “We are very young but exciting to watch,” she said. “We have some speed that we haven’t had in the past. Our middles remind me a lot of our 2008 group. When we figure out how to hit strikes it should be really fun.”

The pitching rotation should be solid, despite losing NJCAA Bianca Duran to graduation. Winn-Ratliff said the five pitchers on the staff are improving each day and liked how they threw in the first tournament last weekend in Utah.

“For the most part I was happy how we played,” she said. “Maddie (Davis) and Jordan (Smith) threw extremely well for us in the circle. Offensively, we still have to be able to make adjustments in our at bats. Defensively, we have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”

Besides Herrera and McGraw, the three freshman hurlers include Madison Davis of West Jordan, Utah; Jordan Smith of Wellsville, Utah; and Ashley Chamberlin of Port Orchard, Wash.

The other freshmen are Courtney Cloud and Emily Rust of Maple Valley, Washington; Lindsay Guymon of Stansbury, Utah; Alex Quintana and Hannah Gonzales of Pueblo, Colo.; Alysa Linford of Bluffdale, Utah; Jessica Ball and Kelsey Bernhardt of Denver; Morgan Varoz of Riverton, Utah; Echo Lee of Salt Lake City, Utah; and Macy Child and Shyanne Messer of Longmont, Colo.

The Cougars also have a new assistant coach this season as Katie Groves, who played for the Cougars in 2008 and 2009, is back to help Winn-Ratliff. Groves went on to play at the University of Central Missouri State for two seasons and then was a graduate assistant at UCM last year.

After this weekend’s tournament, the Cougars will be back in action next Wednesday when they host Chadron State College in a scrimmage at 4 p.m.before competing in the Triple Crown Tourney on Sept. 21.