By Chris Parker
Carl Junction softball will look to continue improving its win total again this year as it has done each of the past three seasons.
Offensive improvement will be the key for the Lady Bulldogs to take a leap from last year’s six-win campaign to more wins this year.
“I believe for us to continue this trend of improving each year, we need to continue to improve offensively,” Carl Junction Head Coach Zachary Petty said. “We made offense a focus last year, and have continued that focus through our off-season workouts and summer activities. We have a really good mixture of players that hit for average and power, so I really do believe that this team will take a big step forward in terms of competing and adding more wins.”
Isabella Burgess will lead the team after earning honorable mention all-conference honors last season. She hit .333 with a .402 on-base percentage while adding in 10 runs scored and 14 RBI last season. Burgess returns to patrol left field this season.
“Isabella has turned out to be such a solid player for us. She has now stepped up and really embraced the role of leader so far in the off-season. She’s there for all of our workouts, league games and team camps. In terms of on the field, she just plays the game the right way. She’s a player that you never question her hustle or commitment,” Petty said.
Senior Hannah Carnes along with juniors Jayden Green and Saedra Allen will handle the pitching duties this year. Green threw a bulk of the innings last year recording 107 strikeouts over 120 innings.
“Jayden does a great job of focusing on her job. She never lets anything, whether it be negative or positive, distract her from what she is doing in the circle. She’s a leader and we can always count on Jayden out there,” Petty said.
Around the infield, sophomore Allison Plumlee returns as a starting catcher. Maddy Bowers slides over to second base for her senior season after starting at shortstop the past three seasons. Freshman Sammie Sims will play shortstop and hit in the leadoff spot. Sophomore Addie Brock will start at third base after missing her entire freshman season due to a broken leg. Junior Bryn Neria will handle the bulk of the time at first base with Hannah Carnes also possibly seeing time there. Kacie Ford (junior, second base) may also see some varsity time.
Brock has stood out in the offseason now that she is back healthy. Petty said she will hit in the three spot. Sims will also be an impact player right away.
“Sammie has a drive and work ethic that is unmatched. She has great knowledge of the game and continues to get better each and every time we are out on the field. I really look forward to seeing what she can do,” Petty said.
Joining Burgess in the outfield will be junior Kalyssa Hagston in center with Allen and Emme Beaver sharing duties in right field.
Overall, Carl Jucntion will put an experienced softball team on the field in 2019.
“I believe our biggest strength this year will be our experience. To be honest, it’s the first time I’ve been able to say that about my team in the four years I’ve been head coach. Seven of our starters will have previous experience at the varsity level. This will be a great asset for us,” Petty said.
The Lady Bulldogs have been working to shore up the offensive side of their game in preparation for a grueling Central Ozark Conference schedule.
“Being able to put more runs on the board is an absolute must for us. We play an extremely tough schedule and in order for us to be successful, we must be able to score numerous runs a game. This is something that we are really focusing on this summer,” Petty said.
The experienced returning players mixed with impact underclassmen have Petty and the Lady Bulldogs expecting big things this year.
“Expectations are high. Not only does the coaching staff expect success this year, but the girls expect it too. Our goal always is to be able to compete for a district championship. We were one game away from getting to the district championship last year, so our expectation now is that we will be in the district championship game,” Petty said.
Carl Junction will kick things off on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at Carthage with a jamboree against the host Lady Tigers, Joplin and Neosho. The Lady Bulldogs open the regular season on Aug. 30 at home against Reeds Spring.