By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Head coach Josh McKee’s first season at Branson was full of ups and downs — the Lady Pirates finished with a 14-14 record before falling to Glendale in the district opener — but positive strides were definitely made within the program.
“I felt like we could have had a few more wins under our belt throughout the season — we let a handful of games get away from us late in the game,” McKee said. “Offensively, we went above my expectations throughout the season; we had a team batting average of .365 and broke nine offensive school records last year.”
Graduates from last season include Amber Large, Aly Smethers, Emily Adams, Bellanne Johnson and Molly Hagston.
While McKee will need to find replacements for the departed grads, the Lady Pirates do return some key components, including a pair of four-year veterans in Cat Ford and Savannah Miller.
“Cat will be the workhorse again inside the circle,” McKee said. “She also hit over .500 as a junior and compiled over 50 hits throughout the season. Savannah was behind the plate last year but will be making the transition to center field to patrol the outfield.”
Branson also returns a trio of sophomores in Langley Miller, Leann Rhoads and Peyton Bonsey.
With a solid foundation returning, McKee believes his team’s experience and depth could be a difference-maker.
“I think our biggest strength could be that a lot of these girls have played a lot of softball over the years and have a lot of in-game experience,” McKee said. “I also think that our offensive side will be a strength throughout the season.”
With several open spots in the lineup, opportunities exist for newcomers to the varsity squad.
Junior Faith Fleming sophomore Madi Good could both make immediate impacts, along with freshmen Sierra Dailey, Ally Dickens and Anika Arjes.
While McKee has high hopes for his incoming class, lack of varsity experience will pace its development.
“The speed of the varsity play could be the biggest factor for this group,” McKee said. “They will have to speed up their play and will need to listen and pay attention during practice.”
In the circle, Ford will anchor a talented staff that includes Bonsey and Dailey.
“We will have three pitchers this year to give teams a different look,” McKee said. “Cat Ford will be our ace. If she will keep the ball down, she will put herself in a spot to have a lot of success in the circle this season. Cat will have two other pitchers to help her get through the long season, which she hasn’t really had before.”
With the additional depth in the circle, McKey believes his pitching staff will be a key difference-maker for the Lady Pirates this fall.
“If you can pitch it, you will always have a chance to win,” McKey said. “Pitching will be key for us this season. I think with this team you will see gains each week as the season goes on and hopefully by the end of the season they are firing on all cylinders.”
Branson opens its season Sep. 3 at hope against Weaubleau.