By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
This spring marks year two in the Skyline dugout for Lady Tigers head coach Shawna Bybee.
And, after losing only three players off last year’s team, the future is bright for her Tigers.
The team hit .449 last season, with four players hitting at least .500.
Bybee only lost two starters (outfielders Jenna Carter and Ashton Owen), and return six players to the diamond who saw significant playing time last spring.
The Tigers return two starting seniors (Kenzie Hash and Samantha Johnson), and Dora Foust (non-starter in ’18) rounds out the senior class.
Hash currently is battling injury, Bybee said.
“We only have five upperclassmen. So, obviously, we are really young,” said Bybee, who led her Tigers to an 18-7 record last season.
The Tigers were up 6-0 in the Class 1 District 14 Tournament, only to fall 10-8 to Lincoln one year ago.
For Bybee and her Tigers, nothing is given — a philosophy that yielded dividends in ’18.
“I always tell my kids every year, I don’t give starting spots even if they started for me last year,” said Bybee. “They have done a lot over the offseason, so, surprisingly, a lot of the starting spots will be up in the air this season. A lot of kids can play more than one position.”
All-district hurler, junior Kenzie Carver, will see action elsewhere this season, while catcher Ella Doughtery will remain behind the plate.
Carver went 17-5 with a 4.00 ERA while striking out 64, and both players were named all-district one season ago.
“She kind of knows her role coming into this season,” Bybee said of Carver. “She will probably see a little bit more of a different look in the field this season.”
Six starters return from last season, and the balanced attack is being welcomed with open arms this spring, as 71-percent of the roster is comprised of underclassmen.
“They all will be fighting for a spot. It is going to be a lot more competitive than it was,” said Bybee. “It is a good feel for me, but it puts the girls in a tough spot.”
As for the circle, Bybee has a handful of freshman who will take the ball.
“The freshman class will be sharing a lot on that,” said Bybee. “Lilly Whitten can throw, (along with) Jayden Foster. The last one is Jorden Hodges.”
Only losing two starters to graduation, Bybee said her Tigers already have a leg-up to the season.
“The girls coming back know what I want,” said Bybee. “I’m doing my best to keep the girls humble. I remind them all the time that they lost in the district championship.”
Leadership will come in all forms, and will include the sophomore class — Doughtery, Angelina Curtis, Keelie Holmes, Bayleigh Hunziger, Makenna Dahl, Jazlynn Gillespie, and Elizabeth Dillon.
Bybee said she expects the sophomores to continue to evolve — both collectively and individually.
Added Bybee: “With a second year, I think they could grow really fast. We will see how they handle it. It’s a good group of kids who work really hard. I want them to keep their heads on straight with a goal in mind. We were really family oriented last year, and we have to keep that same thing going.”
The Tigers open the season March 15 against Stoutland.