By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Lincoln’s quickly emerged as an annual contender in spring softball, and 2019 figures to be no different.
The Cardinals won their second straight district championship last season. But Lincoln’s postseason run ended with a loss to Adrian in the state sectional round.
Lincoln’s used that game as motivation.
“Our outlook is the same as last year: win conference, districts and make a push into the postseason,” said Lincoln coach Chris Sanders. “Our lost against Adrian will be the fire that drives this team.”
Lincoln welcomes back most of its starting lineup.
The Cardinals are built around senior pitcher Aleah Paxton, who has signed to play softball at State Fair Community College in Sedalia next school year.
Last season, replacing an all-time program great in Sloan Swearngin, Paxton went 16-4 in the circle and tallied 175 strikeouts. At the plate, she hit over .520 with two homers and 45 RBIs.
“She is a great teammate and motivator on the field,” Sanders said.
Senior Genesis Smith offers positional versatility as a utility player. Smith, a switch hitter, led Lincoln in singles last season.
“She has the ability to play several different positions on defense, which will greatly improve our team,” Sanders said.
Catcher Haley Mackey, a junior, brings a powerful bat to the plate. In 2018, Mackey hit .545 with five homers, 39 RBIs and posted a 1.000 slugging percentage.
“She’s a true powerhouse,” Sanders said. “She led the team in almost every offensive category.”
Junior Chloe Reese leads the outfield group. She hit .486 with 29 RBIs as a sophomore. Sanders praised Reese’s work ethic.
“She’s willing to do whatever the team needs her to do,” Sanders said. “She can play any outfield position and has batted in several different spots in the lineup. Last year, she developed into a clutch hitter that we needed down the stretch.”
Sophomore Cadyn Paxton is the team’s backup pitcher, filling in for older sister Aleah when needed. She can also play multiple positions in the field and serves as the team’s leadoff hitter.
Last season, Cadyn Paxton hit .440 with five triples and amassed a 5-0 pitching record when she started.
The Cardinals graduated starting third baseman and co-captain Sidney Johnson.
Newcomers include freshman Jenna Vandaveer. Sanders said Vandaveer will play a utility role and brings tremendous speed to the team.
“She has great speed on the bases and puts a pure swing on the ball from both sides of the plate,” Sanders said. “Her knowledge of the game will allow her to play multiple positions if needed. Her work ethic and dedication will fit in great with the upperclassman.”
The Cardinals finished 24-4 overall last season. They’ve won at least 15 games each season since 2015.
Two years ago, Lincoln won 21 straight games to reach the final four. The Cardinals would lose to Purdy in the state semifinals and ultimately finish third with a win over Kennett.
Sanders likes the chemistry, balance and experience of this year’s Lincoln squad.
“We have a well-rounded team,” Sanders said. “Most of these girls have played with each other since they were 9 and 10 years old. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They truly play as one.”
Lincoln opens the regular season March 18 at Archie.