The two-time defending Division I high school state champion South Anchorage softball team has a lot of new young faces on its roster, with six underclassmen to five upperclassmen.
However, while the Wolverines are short on experience, they have a stable of strong hitters capable of knocking the ball out of the park.
South is off to a strong 3-0 start and has outscored its three opponents by a combined 40 runs to just 11 allowed.
“We’ve done a lot of work in a facility hitting different speeds of pitching and stuff so I think that helps make the lineup stronger all the way through,” senior Emily McCutcheon said.
South opened its second straight title defense with a dominant 25-1 win over West High this past Monday.
“I think that may be the highest we’ve ever scored,” McCutcheon said. “It was just nice to get out there, be able to have a little more fun with it and feel a little bit more free swinging the bat.”
In addition to being the most dangerous weapon for the defending state champs, McCutcheon is also the reigning Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year for softball as well. Last season, she batted .658 with 59 runs scored and 58 runs batted in, and hit a state record 16 home runs.
With her two-run homer in the team’s 7-3 win over Bettye Davis East last Wednesday, she already has four through the team’s first three games, which is slightly better than her record-setting pace.
“Hopefully I can keep it going,” she said. “I’m just trying to get what I got last year at least and maybe a little more.”
Her father and head coach, Brandon McCutcheon, is happy to have such a wealth of strong bats to deploy.
“We’re in such a great position with our hitters,” he said. “We’ve got senior leadership and senior bats that I think are really leading the way for some of our underclassmen (and) upcoming freshmen.”
Senior Alexis Moore hit a two-run homer and pitched the whole game against the Thunderbirds.
“It felt great,” she said. “I hadn’t hit a home run in a long time so it felt good to finally have a good hit and I did it with a broken bat.”
Brandon McCutcheon said that the hallmark of South softball is “hitting the ball hard and putting the ball in play” and that coaches constantly stress that approach to their players.
”We spend a lot of time hitting and working on hitting with the whole team,” he said.
That lineup depth will be vital for South to continue its title streak. It means opposing teams can’t just try to strategically neutralize Emily McCutcheon’s impact by intentionally walking her.
“I‘ve got (Alexis Keaveny) behind me so if they walk me, she’s going to get up there and hit a bomb,” Emily McCutcheon said. “They always have my back, which is a really good feeling.”
As long as they can get runners on base, the Wolverines are confident that their big bats can help them dig their way out of deficits.
“They step in the box with confidence and they don’t care if we’re down,” Brandon McCutcheon said. “I’m not ever worried if we’re down a run or two because I know what our lineup can produce.”
Early litmus test
South’s toughest challenge thus far came in its second game of the season in an 8-7 win over Chugiak on Tuesday.
The Mustangs have been South‘s top rival the past few seasons — the two teams faced off in each of the last two state title games with the Wolverines prevailing both times.
In the first meeting this season between the two powerhouse programs, South led early, fell behind and then came back to force extra innings.
“We’d get up then they’d get up and ultimately, we pulled it out in the end,” Brandon McCutcheon said. “That was a good team effort for us.”
In addition to the Mustangs, South views the Thunderbirds and the Dimond Lynx as some of its top competition this year.
“We expect Chugiak to always play us tough,” Brandon McCutcheon said. “The same with Dimond and the same with East.”
Despite the hot start, Brandon McCutcheon doesn’t believe that the team is “hitting on all cylinders yet” just three games into the season. He’s excited about some freshmen with “big-bat potential moving forward.”
“Once we start hitting our stride, this team is going to get better and better,” he said. “We’re trending up. We don’t need to be perfect now. We need to be perfect at state.”