By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Mt. Vernon Lady Mountaineers finished the 2017 campaign 14-13, falling to Pierce City in the district championship. Eight of the team’s losses came at the bats of teams that made the state quarterfinals, and head coach Matt Schubert expects to field a highly-competitive squad again this season.
To do so, Schubert must first replace a quartet of graduated seniors that helped carry the program to its 2016 state title including three-time all-state honoree Morgan Hull.
Hull, the team’s starting pitcher last season, hit a school record .558 and finished her career tied for third in state history with 161 RBI.
Other graduates include Hailea Schubert, Mary Spencer and Destiny Krempges.
Schubert, a second-team all-region and first-team all-district catcher, hit .448 and threw out 57% of runners attempting to steal.
“We will have to replace some program icons so we may have some growing pains early,” Schubert said. “We have some talented but inexperienced players who will be seeing some playing time. The fact that we play a tough schedule should have us ready to compete for a district title once that time of year comes around.”
Despite the losses to graduation, there’s still plenty of talent in the Mt. Vernon lineup.
All-state senior Alane Cordray returns at shortstop to lead the Lady ‘Neer attack. Cordray hit .526 last season and has scored 102 runs in her two years as a varsity starter.
After playing a host of positions over her varsity career, senior Kendra Foulk will add the Mt. Vernon circle to that list. Foulk hit .337 with and drove in 19 runs last season.
A trio of juniors in Lauren Herbert (.364), Michaela McChesney (.300) and Madison Schubert (.392) give the Lady ‘Neers additional leadership and experience; however, Schubert will miss the season due to hip surgery.
Sophomore Raelin Swillum rounds out the list of returnees. Swillum started nine games last season at second base and proved to be a reliable baserunner and defensive player.
After a stint in the Monett Varsity Summer League, a host of newcomers should provide both impact and depth to the roster, including seniors Megan Mynatt and Emaleigh Myers; juniors Lyndsey Hood, Cydney Short and Sydney Anderson; and sophomores Kassidy Anderson, Madison Lacey, Raegan Prescott and Harper Looney.
“I think this year’s strength will be our team speed and our team depth,” Schubert said. “We are much faster than last year’s team but lack the established power threats that we had in last year’s lineup. I think we have a chance to be better overall defensively because of our speed, which at times last year cost us. With the depth we appear to have there will be girls who will get a chance to play if someone else falters.”
That depth will be tested early on as Mt. Vernon reloads its pitching arsenal with Foulk and Kassidy Anderson.
“Both pitchers have improved over the summer,” Schubert said. “In order to be successful, both pitchers will have to avoid walking hitters, and stay away from the middle of the plate. If we can establish ourselves as a quality defensive team then that will help both of our pitchers.”
If the team is able to work through early growing pains, Schubert believes they’ll be in good position to contend for a district title. A couple milestones are within reach this season.
The program — now in its sixth season — has a chance to reach the 100-win plateau with 13 victories this season, and Cordray could reach the state top-ten career list for both hits and runs scored.
“Inexperience will be our biggest obstacle and then recovering from making mistakes,” Schubert said. “We plan to put these girls in situations during practice that will simulate what will go on in games and just work our tails off getting better at those situations.”
Mt. Vernon opens its season March 17 with the Marionville Tournament.