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Crusaders relying on younger players who are showing signs of promise for Jesuit

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior Sammie Petitt and the Crusader softball team are still one of the top teams in the Metro League.

To place the Jesuit softball team in proper context, put away your program and just watch the Crusaders on the diamond.

Jesuit is underclassmen-driven with youngsters holding down key positions from catcher to pitcher to shortstop and beyond. Usually, such a scenario comes with built-in growing pangs and traditional struggle as the young players learn the varsity ropes.

Yet this Crusader crew of youth is not the norm. Far from it. Freshmen such as Kacy Lyman, Hannah Brink, Georgia Corey, Ainsley Davis and Mac Petitt have made a profound immediate impact as two-way difference makers. Sophomores Ellie McClaskey and Madi Mayhew have starred in more than one role around the diamond. This green group could be the next group that leads Jesuit to its next Class 6A state championship within the next two to three years.

But as bright as the future is, the present is proving to be equally fruitful. Senior mainstays Sammie Petitt and Maya Williams are first-team all-Metro caliber players who are living up to that billing this spring. They're the only two seniors on the club, but Jesuit is still 16-6 overall, 5-3 in Metro and ranked seventh in the state, proving youth can prosper even in a league known for devouring the young.

"When you get thrown into a lion's den, you just have to adjust," Williams said. "Our young players are great athletes. I don't think age exposes you on the field, talent does.mIt's not about the age, it's about the talent and the skill and we definitely have that. We have great chemistry, so it's just about getting everybody together and playing the game."

Jesuit beat Aloha 12-6 on May 6 at home thanks in large part to its potent combination of youth and experience. Sammie Petitt went 3-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and three runs scored. Lyman laced a triple to right, tied Pettit for team-high hit honors with three and was a maven defensively. Corey also had two hits and two RBIs.

Aloha stayed with Jesuit for the first three innings as Leina Belog, Kendra Hutchinson and Emily Churchill and clubbed towering home runs. All three power hitters finished with a pair of base knocks. But Jesuit ripped the game open in the bottom of the third, plating four runs to regain an 8-5 lead. All four of those scores came with two outs. Davis came on in relief and cruised with just one run allowed the rest of the way. Six of Jesuit's runs came with two outs.

Over the last half-decade or so Jesuit's been blessed with great shortstops from Kory Oleson to Jenny Marnin and now Lyman whose hiccup-quick hands and laser right arm are true boons in the infield.

"She's amazing, great teammate, great player," Williams said of Lyman. "I really enjoy playing with her. She puts the work in. She has the heart and passion for the game. We work very well together. We know each other's ranges."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior third baseman Maya Williams has been a big addition since transferring from Southridge before last year.

Good luck trying to get a grounder out of the infield with Williams, Lyman, Sammie Pettit and Corey canvassing the diamond with range and athleticism. Corey is a plus defender too, who gunned down two Warriors trying to steal second with absolute frozen ropes to Lyman covering at the bag.

Williams said she and Sammie Pettit have taken on a "big sister role" with the young club. Petitt is a state champion who's started since her freshman year while Williams transferred over from Southridge last season and earned a starting role at third. They've helped foster a sense of community out on the field and competing for the same cause in the clubhouse.

"We're a well-oiled machine that moves and flows together," Williams said. "That's important when it comes to building strength. We're a good family. People talk to each other in a respectful way. We just work well together. There isn't really any clashing."

While the seniors are providing a guiding hand, Williams said the next wave of Crusaders displays the sort of professionalism to the game that makes her believe Jesuit is capable of playing long into the postseason.

"I expect us to compete," Williams said. "We're going to step it up. We have the heart. We have the bats and the fielders. I think we can go far, but it's a matter of taking it one pitch at a time. We've taken some tough losses and learned our lessons over the season. But it's not about how you start, it's how you finish and making those little steps as we go on."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior shortstop Emily Churchill crushed a two-run home run against Jesuit.

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