By Shelley Ebbrecht
The Stockton Lady Tigers had a great run in the 2016 softball season. The Lady Tigers finished 15-9 after losing their quarterfinal matchup against eventual state champion Mount Vernon.
Head coach Lisa Kenney said with the majority of the team returning to the field, she expects this year’s squad to pick up where they left off a year ago.
“This team will look similar to last year’s squad—hard workers and great attitudes,” she said. “I expect this team to follow the same expectations as the two previous seasons. Work hard and push to perform at the level you are capable of every night.”
The team welcomes back all-conference shortstop Harlly Gray for her junior season. Last year, Gray’s .464 batting average was second highest for the team and she led with 35 runs and 25 stolen bases.
Amie Garver, sophomore, was an all-district utility player for the Lady Tigers her freshman year. She hit .377 last season and will also be looked at to pick up a few innings on the mound this year.
Lauren Rhodes, junior, hit .232 last year and will return to third base. She is joined by fellow veterans senior infielder Liz Fuller and outfielder Kenadee Cargill.
In the offseason, the Lady Tigers have focused on improving batting average from top to bottom. They are also looking to fill the shoes of four top starters from last year’s squad.
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Catcher Taylor Greenlee was a big bat for Stockton, finishing with a team-high .487 average. Hannah Ewing batted .361 and handled the bulk of the innings in the circle. Outfielder Rachel Merrick, known for her slap hitting, batted .397 and now plays for Fort Scott Community College.
Top newcomers include Annie Besch and district transplants Ireland Smith and Alexia Smith. Besch is a senior and has limited varsity experience. The Smiths played high school ball before moving to Stockton and will contribute this spring. Kenney said the team also has several young players who will be expected to perform, including Kate Brown and Kaytlynn Millard.
Garver will be joined in pitching duties by Kaitlyn Creek. Neither have pitched in varsity competition and will rely on experience gained in the pitching circle during summer squad and JV.
The Lady Tigers will hit the diamond March 18 in the Shelby Estep Memorial Scholarship Tournament at Marionville. The team’s home opener is set for March 21 against Archie. The Lady Tigers will also appear in the Pierce City Tournament and Diamond Tournament later in the season.