By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last fall, Morrisville/Marion C. Early won its first district softball championship in 10 years.
The Panthers seek a repeat postseason run with a roster filled with sophomores and freshmen.
“Hopefully we can keep the tradition of Lady Panther Softball going and build on our team success from last year and get better each day as a team,” said Panthers coach Mike McHolland.
Youth aside, Morrisville has plenty of in-game experience. The Panthers return six starters.
Senior Eliza Francka (second base) and junior Nettie Wiggins (third base) will lead a young team.
Francka, a senior, scored 14 runs and had 16 RBIs last season. She’ll switch from catcher to second base this season.
“We’ll need her to be an offensive threat at the plate and put pressure on the other team’s defense,” McHolland said.
Wiggins hit .370 with 22 runs and 25 RBIs. She earned all-conference honorable mention.
Morrisville brings back four sophomores with starting experience.
Hannah Brisley returns as a First Team All-Summit Conference and second team all-region selection. She went 13-1 overall in the circle last season with two saves.
Brisley also recorded 98 strikeouts, allowed 27 walks and posted a 3.06 ERA. At the plate, she hit .262 with 14 runs and 26 RBIs.
“We’ll need her to be more consistent at the plate and continue to do an outstanding job as our pitcher,” McHolland said.
Becca Presley made tremendous progress throughout her freshman season, McHolland said. The first baseman received all-conference honorable mention while hitting .368 with 21 RBIs.
“She was our most-improved player last season,” McHolland said. “We’re expecting another great year from her with the experience she got last year.”
Sophomores Riley Simmons and Olivia Blehm return in the outfield. Simmons, a center fielder, hit .255 with 22 runs.
“She has good speed on the bases and in the outfield,” McHolland said.
Blehm, a left fielder, scored 19 runs.
Morrisville finished 17-2 overall last season.
The Panthers beat Walnut Grove in the Class 1 District 3 tournament title game. Morrisville’s season ended with a loss to Weaubleau in the sectional round.
Morrisville hadn’t won a district championship since 2008. The Panthers won five straight district titles from 1999-2003 and made two final four appearances in that span.
McHolland, who was the head coach during that five-year run, has amassed a coaching record of 240-100 (spring and fall seasons) at the school.
Morrisville graduated three starters from its 2018 team, all of whom earned all-state or all-region honors.
Shortstop Katie Collins, who signed to play at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, earned second team all-state honors in Class 1.
Third baseman and pitcher Erica Brisley was a first team all-conference and second team all-region selection. She signed to play at Evangel.
Center fielder Bailey Simmons (first team all-conference, second team all-region) also graduated.
Plenty of new talent is coming into the fold, however.
Libby Painter (OF/IF), Karley Painter (IF) and Gracie Spencer (IF/OF) round out the sophomore group.
The freshmen class includes: Lauren Taylor (shortstop), Emilie English (catcher), Paige Mawhiney (OF), Halle Burrow (IF) and Kirsten McGinnis (OF).
“We have a good nucleus of young players returning, pitching and solid hitters at the top of the order,” McHolland said. “Our team defense and our younger players will need to be more consistent for us to have another great year.”
Morrisville hosts its own tournament August 30-31 to open the regular season.