By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last year, a youthful Bolivar team proved it was ready to contend.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Liberators enter 2019 with optimism and high expectations.
Bolivar returns all but one starter from a 21-win team that won a district championship and reached the Class 3 state quarterfinals.
“This is a promising group of young ladies,” said Liberators coach Brian Thompson. “We have a mix of veteran players and newcomers that should provide for a solid defensive and offensive group and an exciting year.”
Bolivar’s led by one of the area’s top players in junior pitcher/shortstop Katie Brooks. The Florida State commit earned second team all-state honors in 2018.
At the plate, Brooks hit .531 and boasted a .980 slugging percentage. She tallied 52 total hits, including nine doubles, three triples and seven home runs to go with 39 runs and 45 RBIs.
In the circle, Brooks went 16-6 overall with a 1.22 ERA and .863 WHIP. She registered 205 strikeouts and 32 walks in 136 innings pitched.
“Katie is a very good hitter and does an awesome job for us in the circle,” Thompson said. “She has great range and a very strong arm. She will probably see a lot of time in the circle again this fall and hit in the top-3 of our batting order.”
Bolivar finished 21-7 overall a year ago, marking its fourth season of 20-plus wins since 2012. The Liberators also won their first district championship since 2014 and beat McDonald County in sectionals before losing to Sullivan in the quarterfinals.
Bolivar’s normal starting lineup last season featured three sophomores and five freshmen.
“I feel that we have an excellent shot, with this group of athletes, to go out and have a successful regular season and again compete for a district title,” Thompson said.
Bolivar returns two other juniors in its starting lineup: center fielder Emme Hall and utility player Ashton Lynn.
Hall, a second team all-state selection, hit .457 (.658 slugging) with 12 extra-base hits, 42 runs and 23 RBIs. She was also 12-for-12 in stolen base attempts and had a flawless fielding percentage.
“Emme keeps getting better every year and we believe the same will happen again this year,” Thompson said. “Emme is another very good hitter and can cover some major ground in the outfield with a very strong arm. She reads the ball very well off of the bat.”
Lynn’s played multiple positions for Bolivar, including third base, catcher and outfield. Lynn, who made the all-district team, hit .282 with 13 runs and 19 RBIs.
“She is a strong defensive player and we feel her offensive numbers will go up this year, too,” Thompson said.
Bolivar returns five sophomores who all started as freshmen and were named all-district.
Jadyn Hamilton began the season as Bolivar’s designated player, but eventually worked her way into an outfield spot and saw time at pitcher. She’ll played the outfield and pitch this season while hitting in the top-half of Bolivar’s lineup, Thompson said.
Hamilton hit .356 at the plate with 18 runs and 19 RBIs. As pitcher, she went 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 14 strikeouts.
Avery McClure returns at shortstop, but she also played the outfield at times last season. She had eight extra-base hits, hit .333 overall and finished with 24 runs and 25 RBIs.
“Avery is another athlete who has very good range, a very good arm and reads the ball off of the bat well,” Thompson said. “We feel that she is much stronger than last fall and feel all her numbers will go up as well.”
Paige Severns (first baseman), Shae Smith (second base) and Apryl Zeno (catcher/third base) round out Bolivar’s returning sophomore starters.
Severns hit .350 with 28 total hits, 13 runs and 20 RBIs. Smith hit .351 (.520 slugging) from the 9-hole with 24 runs and seven RBIs.
Thompson’s expecting increased hitting production from both.
“Paige is the type of hitter that can hit to all fields and does it well,” Thompson said. “Shae set the table many times for the top of the lineup. She gives us that second lead-off hitter.”
Zeno took over full-time catching duties as a freshman. She hit .260 with 13 runs and 12 RBIs.
“She handles our pitching staff very well and her skills behind the dish are getting better every day,” Thompson said. “Apryl has a very strong arm that we hope will deter would-be base threats.”
Bolivar graduated just two seniors from its 2018 team: Carsyn Julien and reserve Rachel Evans.
Julien, a second team all-region outfielder, hit .400 at the plate with 11 extra-base hits (.589 slugging percentage), 37 runs, 32 RBIs and four steals.
But depth shouldn’t be an issue for Bolivar. The Liberators return four more sophomores who were JV starters and varsity reserves.
Haley Tygart (OF/IF), Mollie Klaser (IF), Brooke Henry (3B/C) and Kirsten Dickerson (P/OF) add more options to Bolivar’s lineup.
Newcomers to watch include junior outfielder Karissa Rickman, who played for Bolivar as a freshman. After a year away from the sport, Thompson said Rickman decided to “return to the game she loves.”
“Based on what we have seen over the summer, we feel that she will compete for a spot in the lineup,” Thompson said. “Karissa has very good speed and range and swings the bat well, hitting to all fields.”
Bolivar will welcome a talented freshmen class for the second straight season.
Those freshmen include: Lakyn Breesawitz (OF), Brookelyn Cline (P/OF/IF), Maddi Manning (IF/OF), Riley Ross (OF) and Leiklin Walker (IF).
“We’re getting a little better every day and if we continue to work hard, we will have a chance in every game,” Thompson said. “Defensively, we have been focusing a lot this summer on taking care of the softball in order to cut the down the number of errors we had last fall.
“In the circle, we will have a deeper staff this fall which will hopefully help to cut down the number of innings our No. 1 has to throw.”
Bolivar starts the regular season August 30-31 at the Buffalo Lady Bison Invitational.
On September 7, Bolivar hosts a doubleheader against Ozark and 2018 sectional opponent McDonald County.
“Our schedule continues to be very strong and competitive and we fully expect to be in every game from the first pitch to the last pitch,” Thompson said.