By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Republic softball continues to be one of the most consistent programs in the area.
In what some considered to be a rebuilding year, the Lady Tigers notched an 18-9 record in 2017 and finished second to Webb City in the highly-competitive Central Ozark Conference.
Republic fell to Neosho in the district semifinal; however, optimism abounds in preparation for the fall campaign.
Head coach Lee Dishman, 124-45 since taking over in 2012, feels his team is ready to take another step forward.
“We had a young team with only one senior consistently in our lineup,” Dishman said. “Our young varsity players had to learn how to compete and stayed focused every day. They didn’t know what it was going to be like competing in the COC, and it was an eye-opening experience for them.”
Aly Stolte, a second-team all-state selection at third base (.467 / 10 HR / 36 RBI), is Republic’s lone graduated senior. Stolte is set to play this fall at Arkansas-Monticello.
With only one departed senior, the Lady Tiger lineup is chock full of returning starters.
Seniors Julia Higgins (C – .406 / 1.067 OPS), Liv Collier (INF – .455 / 6 HR / 32 RBI) and Megan Thorne (OF – .388) will provide veteran leadership along with juniors Megan Weis (CF – .256) and Rylie Laub (2B). The upperclassmen will be joined by sophomores Kaitlin Ragsdale (SS – .476 / 42 SB / 37 runs), Avery Romans (P – 6 wins) and A.J. Fenske (P – .443).
“I think our biggest strength going into the season is our lineup,” Dishman said. “I believe we are going to have some tough outs in our lineup one through nine. We will have speed at the top and bottom of the order with some potentially big bats in the middle.”
In the circle, Republic will feature a two-headed sophomore monster this season with both Romans and Fenske.
“This year in the circle we are going to have two number ones,” Dishman said. “Avery Romans and A.J. Fenske will throw just about every inning. They both are unique in their own ways. If they can control games and get outs, we will be successful, but we still expect them to have growing pains being only sophomores.”
Should Republic’s pitching continue to grow and produce outs, Dishman feels the Lady Tigers could be a very tough team by the time district play begins.
“We were pretty young last year and, hopefully, we have matured some,” Dishman said. “Expectations are high, but we want to be playing our best when October rolls around, and that’s why we have a very tough schedule.”
Following an Aug. 18 jamboree with Rogersville, Nixa and Walnut Grove, Republic opens its season at home against Class 3 state champion Monett.