By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Norwood softball put together a stellar campaign in 2018, culminating with a trip to the Class 1 final four for the first time since 1991.
The Lady Pirates finished with a 19-9 record and fourth-place finish, a pleasant surprise for head coach Lori Drake.
“I would say a trip to the final four was not on our minds at the beginning of last season,” Drake said. “We had goals of competing in our district, which always has good teams, and hopefully playing for a district championship.”
More good news could be in the works for Norwood.
For one, the Lady Pirates lose only three players to graduation from last season’s squad in shortstop Megan Campbell, catcher/utility Marla Chadwell and second-baseman Keayra Dawson.
Two — and an even bigger get — Norwood returns its dual-headed hammer in senior pitcher Payton Drake (.417 BA, 18-8, 1.97 ERA, 162/22 SO/BB ratio) and catcher Josie Sullivan (.427 BA).
“Payton Drake starts her third year as varsity pitcher,” Coach Drake said. “Josie Sullivan led most of our offensive stats as a junior. She’s a strong and quick athlete who can make things happen on the bases.”
Outfielder Jade Coatney (.333 BA) rounds out the returning senior group of starters.
The three are joined by another trio of juniors, including outfielder Rainy Jarrett (.287 BA, 11 SB), first-baseman Sierra Cornelison (.322 BA) and third-baseman Keyera Cornelison (.269 BA).
Sophomore Cassie Chadwell (.293 BA) and senior Regan Kelly also return, and both are expected to move into more prominent roles this season.
Norwood also welcomes senior Emma McGowan to the roster, who could be poised to make an impact at multiple positions for the team, according to Coach Drake.
With a host of experienced players returning to the fold, Coach Drake feels the comfort and chemistry from playing together for several years should pay dividends as the season unfolds.
“Having several experienced varsity players should prove to be our strength,” Coach Drake said. “These girls have played together for the last three years in high school, and for some, they have played together for several years prior to high school.”
In the circle, Payton Drake will continue to lead the Norwood assault.
“Payton will be our ace and she will need to continue to work at her pitches and be consistent with them,” Coach Drake said. “Cassie Chadwell is also ready anytime she is called upon to step in and pitch for our team.”
At the plate, the Lady Pirates may prove to be even better than last season’s 6.7 runs-per-game average.
“Our lineup should be as solid as last year,” Coach Drake said. “I think we’ve added some quickness this year.”
While high expectations loom large over a team fresh off a final four run, Norwood isn’t leaving anything to chance this season.
“Our team success will be determined during practice time,” Coach Drake said. “If we want to be successful, then we will need to commit to the drills and work at becoming solid players and teammates.”
Norwood opens its season Sep. 3 at Dora.