By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2018 was a banner year for Republic’s softball program.
The Class 4 District 11 champion Lady Tigers finished with a record of 21-7, falling in the sectional round to Raymore-Peculiar.
Head coach Lee Dishman attributed the successful run to his team’s mental toughness.
“During the season our team just figured out how to win games,” Dishman said. “We went out every night with a chip on our shoulder and out to prove to people that we were a solid team.”
A trio of seniors graduated from that solid team, including Julia Higgins (15 HR, 60 RBI), Liv Collier and Megan Thorne. Both Higgins and Thorne will continue their softball careers this fall at Evangel University.
Led by junior Kaitlin Ragsdale (.500 BA, 23 RBI, 44 runs), the Lady Tigers may well have the pieces in place for another postseason run.
Ragsdale, an all-state selection, has started at shortstop since her freshman season.
Junior A.J. Fenske (.398 BA, 6 HR), junior Avery Romans (13-6, 119 innings), senior Megan Weis, senior Riley Laub and junior Emma White also return for Republic.
“Expectations are always high for Republic softball,” Dishman said. “We have a good core group returning from last year’s team but we can’t get satisfied with the success we had last year. We are going to get everyone’s best each night.”
Republic also has a strong group of varsity newcomers eager to compete for playing time, including Claire Summers, Jaiden Gibbs, Whitney Weaver, Jesse Jones, Amber Goodman, Mara Lakey and Zoe Ennis.
“All these girls have a chance at having valuable time in the varsity lineup,” Dishman said. “Who will take control and produce in the lineup will get the nod.”
The Lady Tigers hope to build on last season’s success, and Dishman believes his team has the talent and mental roadmap to do so.
“I think our biggest strength going into the season will be our experience,” Dishman said. “We have girls that have started for the last two or three years, and they know what it takes to handle the pressure of big games.”
In the circle, Romans and Fesnske will once again anchor the team’s defense.
“We have our whole staff back from last year which will be nice,” Dishman said. “Our staff will not blow the ball past teams so to be successful they have to be able to spot the ball well. The good thing about our pitching we will have two to three options to be able to roll out there and give us a chance to win.”
At the plate, Republic will be feature plenty of speed and spearheaded by Ragsdale at the leadoff spot.
“This year we will have some good speed at the top and bottom of our lineup,” Dishman said. “We are going to rely on that heavily to hopefully put pressure on the other team’s defense. We will have a little bit of pop in the middle of our lineup that can drive in the speedy girls.”
If a question mark exists, it might be behind the plate. Due to graduation, the Lady Tigers must fill a key spot in the lineup in order to battle through a difficult conference and district schedule.
“We have to find someone who is going to replace Julia Higgins behind the plate,” Dishman said. “We have some young girls that are going to battle for the catching position, and it could be we use a couple options back there until someone becomes the clear cut leader.”
Republic opens its season Aug. 30 at Monett.