By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Entering her sixth season, Becky Gundy will look to duplicate her success in 2015.
Two years ago, the Broncbusters won 34 games and got red hot in April and May, reaching the Region VI title game before falling to Barton County. Gundy was named the region coach of the year, and Garden City had plenty of momentum. But the following year, injuries depleted a talented roster, and the Broncbusters won just eight games.
"We had a lot of injuries and bad luck, but that's how it goes," Gundy said following the 2016 campaign.
Garden City rebounded with a strong start last season, winning 10 of their first 14 games. But a young roster endured some growing pains, and the Broncbusters finished 18-36.
"I'm anxious to see what this team can do this year," Gundy said.
Garden City brings back six returning starters from last year's squad including all-conference shortstop Erica Vessels, who hit .347, clubbed eight homers and drove in 50 runs, good for second best on the team. The player she trailed: outfielder Micaela Martinez, who also returns after a stellar freshman campaign.
"I expect us to play with a purpose," Martinez said. "I expect that we will hold each other accountable this year. As for me personally, I've pushed myself more than ever."
Martinez was fantastic in her first season, registering a team-best .692 slugging percentage, while mashing 16 home runs, the fourth most in the Jayhawk Conference.
"I can't even describe how excited I am for this season," Martinez said. "I believe we can do great things this year."
Also back is catcher Taylore Hartman and flex Bailey Muxlow-Volk, who finished last season on a tear by hitting safely in 16 out of her final 19 games.
"Taylore has done an incredible job as a leader for this team and our pitching staff," Gundy said. "She's continued to improve her game, and I look forward to her having a very positive impact on our program this season."
In the circle, seven-game winner Samantha Akers is back with a year of experience under her belt. She fanned 75 batters in 2017 and notched her best performance of the season, allowing just six hits in a complete-game gem vs. Lamar.
"This is a talented group with a lot of versatility," Gundy said. "We are excited for the ability to use multiple athletes in a variety of different positions."
Other players vying for time in the rotation include freshman Bailey Brawner. Brawner pitched all but five innings as a senior at Haven last year while leading them to the state championship game. Ariel Denney, a three-year starter at Carl Albert in Oklahoma, who went 18-3 with a 1.89 ERA and 94 strikeouts during a sensational junior season, could also be in the mix as well as lefty Marissa Montiel, who appeared in 12 games last year.
Hannah Adams returns on the infield after hitting .267 with 10 RBI and five stolen bases as a freshman
"Each individual brings something positive to the program this year," Gundy said. "I'm excited to see them work and complete to earn their spots."
The Broncbusters open the season Wednesday at Frank Phillips. First pitch is at 1 p.m. Their home opener is set for Friday afternoon vs. Trinidad State at 12.