Defending softball champ Polytech returns many starters

Polytech softball-Taylor Pechin-Amanda Waishses (9) by .

Taylor Pechin, right, and Amanda Waishes, shown celebrating last season, are two of six seniors on defending state champion Polytech’s softball team. The Panthers open the season March 22 at Indian River. (Delaware State News file photo)

WOODSIDE — The big sign is impossible to miss.

In red lettering on the back of Polytech High’s pressbox, it proclaims that the Panthers were the 2015 Delaware state champions.

Senior second baseman Morgan Dodge makes a point of touching the sign when she passes it.

“It was definitely a really cool experience,” she said. “Winning it was really special for all of us. We had the team to do it — and we still do.”

Indeed, Polytech lost just three seniors from the roster listed on that state championship sign.

The trouble is, all three of those graduated seniors were first-team All-Staters — pitcher Shaina Reed along with outfielders Brandi Dalious and Kailey Perry.

So trying to win the program’s second state title won’t be easy.

Coach Jenn Bradshaw knows this is a new team and a new season.

“We don’t really want to live in the past,” she said. “It was a great run last year. But this team is a different group of girls and I don’t really want them to think that they have to live up to anything.”

On the other hand, the Panthers do have plenty of veterans who were part of last year’s squad.

Polytech, which opens the season on March 22 at Indian River, has six seniors on this year’s team, including five returning starters. That includes catcher Whitney DeMora, who was a third-team All-Stater as a junior.

The other returning seniors include Dodge, Taylor Pechin (first base), Hayley Friess (shortstop) and Amanda Waishes (right field).

The Panthers went 21-1 last spring, avenging their only loss — to Delmar — by downing the Wildcats in the state semifinals. Polytech opens the season with a 13-game winning streak.

“A lot of the kids around school are rooting for us,” said Dodge, a four-year starter. “They want us to win it again — because we can. We have the ability to. We still need to work just as hard as we did last year.”

“We definitely have a target on our back,” said Pechin. “We have high expectations. We just need to go out there and play hard.”

The biggest change for the Panthers this spring is that they won’t have Reed in the pitcher’s circle for the first time in four years.

Pechin and freshman Katie Burawski will both get a chance to pitch early in the season. Burawski is one of four freshmen on Polytech’s varsity roster.

While Pechin played first base last season, she’s done her share of pitching on her travel-ball team and on her own.

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill,” she said. “She (Reed) has a lot of records here. I just want to do my best and make her proud and make everyone else proud, too.”

“I think they’re both very talented athletes,” Bradshaw said about the two pitchers. “And whether they’re on the mound or in a defensive position, they’re going to be able to contribute.”

Bradshaw said she likes the attitude of this year’s Panthers. If they’re feeling any pressure, they don’t seem to show it.

“They’re spunky,” she said. “They’ve got a lot of character. We’re having a lot of fun at practice.”

“It seems like we always have fun,” said Dodge. “We always make sure to do team-bonding at the beginning of the year.

“Absolutely, it’s important. We won a state championship last year — it helps. We hung out a lot more last year than we did in previous years and I think that helped a lot.”

Of course, the Panthers only need to look at the sign on the back of the pressbox to be reminded of what they can accomplish when they put it all together.

“We see it every time we walk out to practice,” said Pechin. “It’s an honor to be a state champion. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Wow, we really did win’ — like it’s actually hitting us. It’s a great feeling.”

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