By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After a season full of ups and downs, Nixa softball looks to rebound in 2019.
The Lady Eagles finished with a 15-15 record, falling in the district championship to Ozark.
Head coach Matt Walker was pleased with his team’s improvement over the back portion of the season.
“We got off to a strong start going 6-0 to open the season, but struggled in the middle part of the season and started playing better towards the end,” Walker said. “I believe we figured out how to get through the rough times and get back to playing the way we can.”
Five starters have moved on from the program due to graduation, including Morgan Jones (.380 BA), Sam Aring (.370 BA, 11 doubles), Drue Lawrence (.308 BA), Payton Ward (.338 BA) and Kat Mitchell (.338 BA).
Jones and Aring will continue their softball careers at Missouri Valley College and the University of South Carolina-Aiken, respectively. Lawrence will participate in track and field at Drury University.
“This class carried a very heavy load for us this past season,” Walker said. “With the absence of five starters we will have many holes to fill this season.”
Despite the graduation losses, Nixa returns a host of players with varsity experience, led by seniors Ellie Osborne, Maddie Ward and Emily Morton (.360 BA).
The Lady Eagles also return juniors Emma Vincent (.306 BA, 22 RBI), Maya Herman (.291 BA), Morgan Delloma and Madi Atwell.
Sophomores Katie Faulk (.326 BA) and Anna Baker also return to the lineup this season. Faulk will likely hit in the leadoff spot once again, while Baker is expected to start in the circle for the Lady Eagles.
“I have had several girls have a good summer in an attempt to get varsity time,” Walker said. “Sophomores Dakota Hale and Kaylee Schlenker have played well this summer. Another is Phoebe Gardner, a freshman, who plays third base. I believe all three can make the adjustment to varsity pitching it could take some time but they will get there.”
Walker sees pitching as a difference-maker heading into the season, with Baker set to take over the primary role in the circle.
“If [Baker] can locate and mix pitches, I feel we have a fighting chance,” Walker said.
While the Lady Eagles must replace five roster spots from last season, Walker believes his team’s talent pool will be well-stocked.
“I believe I will have more depth than we have had in a long time,” Walker said, “I will have multiple girls that will be pushing the starters and jump in when needed. I see me having several different starting lineups early in the season to see what works best with several girls ready to step in if needed.”
A challenging schedule won’t make things easy for the Lady Eagles, who will be tested early and often.
“The main obstacle we will need to overcome will be our youth and inexperience yearly on,” Walker said. “We open the season with two district teams in our first three games. So, we have our work cut out for us during practices to start the season but, hopefully, we can make some big strides as the season rolls on.”
After hosting a jamboree Aug. 24 with Republic, Rogersville and Walnut Grove, Nixa opens its season at Kickapoo Aug. 30.