By Derek Shore (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2018 season featured a team in Ash Grove that was in the middle of a rebuilding process.
So, it is needless to say, the Lady Pirates certainly went through their share of trials and tribulations as head coach Pam Swift returned from a five-year hiatus.
“We started six freshmen and sophomores last year,” Swift said, whose team lost to District 11 Champions Pierce City to end their season. “We saw much improvement throughout the season.”
After putting together a 5-17 overall record last year and graduating only two seniors, Ash Grove has plenty to look forward to this upcoming season. They welcome back a whopping eight starters and 10 total lettermen from last season.
Although, Ash Grove does lose one significant senior in second baseman Josie Barnett, who was an All-Conference and All-District Honorable Mention honoree last year.
But senior Kenzie Connell is expected to continue her role as catcher and team leader on both offense and defense to help fill the void of Barnett. Connell posted a .477 batting average as a junior last year with seven (three doubles, two triples and two homers) of her 21 hits going for extra-bases.
She also drove in eight runs over 44 at-bats.
The Lady Pirates return senior Patsy Gorski as well, who adds power and strength to the lineup. The third baseman hit .388 last year, tallying 19 hits while swiping 10 bags on the base paths. Gorski also tied for the team-lead in RBIs with eight on the year.
Ash Grove will also return juniors Riley Hammons and Taylor Spickard. Hammons is expected to patrol center field once again for the Lady Pirates.
Swift expects to have a talented class of sophomores back as well, featuring Briley Bagley, Emma Eagleburger, Mackenzie Lutz and Alexis Long.
Swift said Bagley adds athleticism and speed on both sides of the ball. Eagleburger returns after spending 2018 at first base while Lutz will be counted on as a middle infielder for Ash Grove. Long is a returning utility player, who has the versatility to play several positions.
Expected to see time on the varsity field this season includes a trio of freshmen – pitcher Madison Mobley, infielder Julianna Torbett and utility player Emma McClelland.
Swift said Mobley brings experience on the mound. She is also expected to strengthen the lineup as well. Both Torbett and McClelland are four-sport athletes, who bring athleticism to the diamond for the Lady Pirates.
“We are looking to amp up the level of play this season,” Swift said, who has compiled a career win-loss record of 204-124 in 18 total years of coaching. “We should be competitive every time we hit the field. There should be an improvement on offense and defense which should be immediate.
“We are looking forward to competing in our new Southwest Conference and having new district matchups. This year’s motto is ‘Get Better Everyday.’”
Ash Grove opens the season at Greenfield on March 15 as they look for their youth to build off last year’s in-season improvements on the diamond