By Matt Turer — @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Lori Hyde
2017 RECORD: 16-6
2017 POSTSEASON: SECTIONALS: Lost 8-1 to Strafford
RETURNING PLAYERS: P/3B Kadee Sheppard, CF Tommi Gardner, DH Kennason Glenn, Shelby Barnes, Haylee Stertz, Jenna Cantrell, Brook Ipock, Lorna Felker
Mountain Grove won its second district title in the past three seasons in 2017 by beating Winona by a run. Unfortunately, the Panthers had the toughest sectional draw around and lost 8-1 to Strafford in their next game.
Lori Hyde’s group enters 2018 down a pair of All-O-Zone selections in infielder MaKenzie Gardner and pitcher Laci Collins.
Collins pitched 116.1 of 119.2 innings last season for Mountain Grove. Her pitching helped bolster a 9-0 start in which the Panthers allowed one run or fewer six times. Filling that massive void will likely be Kadee Sheppard. Sheppard tossed 3.1 scoreless innings in 2017, striking out one.
Sheppard’s jump to the mound is representative of a large youth shift for the Panthers.
“We lost seven seniors who were three and four-year starters for me,” Hyde said. “But we are gaining nine freshmen who are all willing to play the position that will be best for the team. We are young and want to compete.”
Those nine freshman are Trinity Elliott, Gracie Anderson, Alex Hicks, Kelsey Watson, Kylee Mullins, Kylee Sheppard, Ashlynn Davault, Maddie Collins and Morgan Owens. They represent the future of a program that is 45-25 (.643) since 2016, so perhaps it’s fitting that Hyde as her group looking forward by looking back with the motto, “Be better than you were yesterday.”
Mountain Grove’s best returning bat belongs to center fielder Tommi Gardner. Gardner hit .453 with eight extra-base hits, 22 runs, 22 RBIs, 27 steals and a 1.179 OPS in 2017 and has a shot at an all-state selection this spring.
Mountain Grove returns seven with varsity experience behind Gardner: Sheppard (.243 AVG., 10 SB), Kennason Glenn (.309 AVG., 6 XBH, 21 R, .870 OPS, 16 SB) and Brook Ipock (.385 AVG., .923 OPS). Ipock appeared in just eight games. Shelby Barnes, Haylee Stertz and Jenna Cantrell saw even more limited varsity time last year.
The Panthers open 2018 at home March 16 against Winona. They travel to state champion Strafford on April 6.