DHS softball (Paxton, Haupt, Martin, Steinert, Howe)

Derby returns three starters from its 2019 state-qualifying roster. That includes Paige Paxton (far left), Gabby Martin (middle) and Amber Howe (far right). Junior Morgan Haupt (No. 13) will assume No. 1 pitching duties, while classmate Audrey Steinert (No. 3) will start in center field.

The longest active streak of 6A state softball appearances resides in Derby.

Softball’s run of nine trips is a clear building block of its program, but at the same time, coach Christy Weve wants to see her players acknowledge that 20 games prior to the postseason have new meaning in 2021.

Only four players with starting experience are back on the Lady Panthers’ roster this spring. Seniors Amber Howe (3B), Gabby Martin (2B) and Paige Paxton (SS/P) were all all-league selections as sophomores. Morgan Haupt did spend some time on the mound, but will be asked to take on more innings as Paxton plans to add more innings outside of pitching.

Much like its Derby counterparts, Weve said a breath of fresh air comes with returning to the field after last year’s cancella- tion. However, the team will need to make strides to fill key slots once the season begins.

“By the end of the first week of tryouts, you see some separation a little bit,” Weve said. “There are still some other players who have a good bat or glove, but nothing is ever set in stone because we have a strong freshman and sophomore class.”

Howe has the deepest roots among its returning players. With two years of varsity experience, the senior is a career .461 hitter and was tied for second in runs batted in as a sophomore with 26. She put up a .581 average as a freshman and has only struck out twice through 126 career plate appearances.

Along with her offense, Weve said Howe possesses a strong glove at third base.

“She [knows her swing] and she is quick on the bases,” Weve said. “She can hit just about any- thing thrown at her. She and Paige are just great hitters.”

Howe has the deepest roots among its returning players. With two years of varsity experience,

the senior is a career .461 hitter and was tied for second in runs batted in as a sophomore with 26. She put up a .581 average as a freshman and has only struck out twice through 126 career plate appearances.

Along with her offense, Weve said Howe possesses a strong glove at third base.

“She [knows her swing] and she is quick on the bases,” Weve said. “She can hit just about any- thing thrown at her. She and Paige are just great hitters.”

Martin, who will start at second, emerged as one of the best AVCTL-I hitters in her inaugural season two years ago. As one of eight hitters that carried a .400 or better batting average and at least 58 plate appearances, she’ll be a key component to the middle of Derby’s lineup.

She also hit a team-high four home runs and 16 extra-base hits.

“Gabby has a lot of power,” Weve said. “She has a hard swing … she has a ton of confidence on the field.”

Weve also praised all three veterans, Howe, Paxton and Martin, for their ability to accept teaching and set a precedent for its younger players.

“All three of them listen and are very coachable,” she said. “They understand how I want them to do it.”

Haupt will likely serve as Derby’s No. 1 starter as Howe, Paxton and Martin cover third base, shortstop and second base.

Weve said Haupt’s experience in the summer will be a key piece to her success.

“She is pretty comfortable on the mound,” Weve said. “She looked pretty good over the first week of practices and with all of our pitchers, we want to get their arms in better shape.”

Behind the plate, the Derby coach said Trinity Kuntz and Ava Sadler are taking the majority of the reps and fighting for the starting spot. While they have a few additional emergency catchers on the roster, Weve foresees the two underclassmen at the dish.

“Trinity was one of the top freshmen during tryouts last spring,” Weve said. “Going into this year, we had eight girls try out who could catch. She stood out and she’s so strong.”

The longtime Panther coach said that junior Audrey Steinert is set to start in centerfield.

“She is fast, has a strong arm and is a good contact hitter,” Weve said of Steinert. “She can lay down a bunt … if we had to bring her into the infield, we could.”

Competition remains in right field for the starting spot. Weve said that sisters Adi and Jaedyn Igo and freshman Addi Foster are at least three players in contention to start.

Weve said that two sophomores are lined up to play left field and first base. Rylee Frager is lined up to replace Halle Rico at first base, while Madi Grady is poised to replace three years of starting experience in Mariah Wheeler.

“When all things are equal, it comes down to who can hit the best,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re at least two deep at every position. You never know when someone might get quarantined or who might get sick.”

A WORD FROM 2020: Gabby Martin 

Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned personally after losing last season due to COVID-19? 

A: Definitely not taking it for granted. I’ve been playing softball for so long and I struggled knowing whether or not I was burnt out or not. With the season getting canceled, I was devastated. Mariah Wheeler [2020 senior] is one of my best friends and we had played together for so long. I didn’t know we would get to play together… I realized how much I do love this sport.”  

Q: With the season cancelled, what were some of the workouts or training tools you used to keep going through the spring?  

A: “I had a fitness trainer and I was still able to work out with him. We’d have small groups and we’d all wear masks and distance. I would work out with my dad too. He is the next best thing to a coach, in my opinion, and he worked me pretty good. I would hit in my free time and play catch with my little sister too.” 

Q: Even though you’ve only been at Derby for one full season, what is most special to you about being a part of Derby’s softball tradition? 

A: “Definitely how much better it has made me. I’m a very competitive person and I know how devastating it would be to break that streak… Knowing it has pushed me in the right direction. I’ve worked harder and I haven’t accepted failure as easily. It has also helped the team because  we push each other and we compete against each other.” 

Q: After leading the team in extra-base hits as a sophomore, what has allowed you to become one of Derby’s most dynamic hitters?  

A: “To be honest, I didn’t even know that stat. My goal is to move my teammates and see them score. I don’t care as much as of how it gets done. I go to the plate with the approach of move them or score them and if you get out, but I [create an opportunity] that’s a win for me.”

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