By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With a 15-13 record last season, East Newton set a school record for wins. The Lady Patriots were eliminated in the district semifinal by Cassville.
Heading into the 2018 campaign, head coach Jordan Savage must find replacements for a talented quintet of departed seniors.
Jay Hayward, Kinsey Sorrell, Brynne Smith, Randi Werries and Emily Mojica have all graduated from the program, leaving plenty of opportunities within the East Newton lineup.
“The biggest challenge for us will be overcoming how young we are,” Savage said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores mixed with only a handful of juniors and seniors. The ability of our younger girls to step up and adjust to the varsity level will determine a lot about our season.”
Senior pitcher Natalie Oxendine (.421 / 40 hits / 22 RBI) will be the face of this season’s Lady Patriot squad.
“Natalie was the workhorse on the mound and will continue to be this fall,” Savage said. “Her competitive nature on the mound and at the plate makes her a leader and spark for the team.”
Oxendine will be joined by classmate Robin Hussong (.260 / 13 RBI), a utility player capable of playing multiple positions in the field.
Junior first baseman Kaitlyn Hailey (.260 / 12 RBI) and sophomore infielder Kayla Higginbotham (.233 / 6 SB) also return for the Lady Patriots.
Despite the graduation losses, Savage believes her returning core will be well prepared for the challenges ahead.
“The girls played hard (last season),” Savage said. “The returners now know what it feels like and takes to have a successful season, which is something we can build on going into this fall.”
With open spots within the roster, East Newton will turn to a host of varsity newcomers this season.
Junior Macy Bowman (OF), junior Emily Hance (OF), sophomore Katie Kester (P/IF) and sophomore Kaytin Brown (2B/OF) will join freshmen Makenna Braiser (C/UT), Kenzie Massey (C/UT), Baylee Anderson (1B/3B) and Liz Barratt (OF).
With plenty of talented prospects, Savage believes competition for varsity playing time will yield positive results over the course of the season.
“Our depth will be the biggest x-factor for us,” Savage said. “We have a lot of girls with the ability to play different positions at any time, which allows us a lot of flexibility.”
Like any team, success begins in the circle for East Newton. Savage expects a big season from Oxendine and feels Kester gives the team a solid No. 2 option.
“Pitching is going to be one of our strengths this season,” Savage said. “Natalie Oxendine is a workhorse that just goes out there and competes with every team in any situation, and Katie Kester will deliver an additional option for us in the circle. She is a very solid No. 2 and has the ability to be the No. 1 for a lot of schools.”
For East Newton to make a strong push into the postseason, it will first need to navigate a competitive Big 8 Conference loaded with talent including McDonald County and Class 3 state champion Monett.
“I look for us to have a very successful season and build upon last fall’s win total,” Savage said. “We look to have the ability to be very solid defensively as well as having a good amount of speed throughout our lineup. My expectations are very high for this group and I hope to meet those expectations.”
East Newton opens its season Aug. 28 against McDonald County.