By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Forsyth Lady Panthers softball program posted a 22-4 record last season.
The team clawed its way to a Class 1 District 9 championship before falling to Purdy 3-0 at sectionals.
But, that was last year, and the girls in blue are primed for another postseason run this spring, as senior starter Emily Shipman returns to her post as catcher.
The 2019 1st Team All-State and All-Region catcher recently signed her letter of intent with Crowder College
Head coach Collin Lyerla enters his fourth season at the helm, and said last season’s success is being looked upon as a table-setter to this spring.
“We dropped a sectional game against a pretty good Purdy team, whom we beat earlier in the season at the Mt. Vernon tournament,” Lyerla said, reflecting on last season. “We were very equally matched.”
The Panthers shared the Mid-Lakes Conference title with Clever and Strafford, and once again, will take the diamond against another tough field of opponents March 23 at the very same Mt. Vernon tournament: teams such as Purdy.
The Panthers are preliminarily scheduled to battle Purdy, Sarcoxie, and Strafford in their pool.
“It is loaded again,” Lyerla said. “We play a pretty tough schedule. We face Strafford later that day, who always has a solid program.”
The Panthers field four returning lettermen in Shipman (1st Team All-Region, All-State), Katrina Drake (1st Team All-Region), and Kyleigh Kincaid (1st Team All-Region), and Rachel Essary (2nd Team All-State, 1st Team All Region).
Essary looks to build on her 2019 in the circle with another offseason under her belt.
“Rachel is returning from an impressive sophomore year where she batted clean-up for us and a 17-1 record,” Lyerla said.
This season, sophomores who saw time last season and will be vital to this year’s success, include: Landry Stuart (LF, IF), Emmalea Cook (SS, 3B), and Oletha Rich (3B, C).
The aforementioned sophomores: Stuart, Cook, and Rich, are looking to take on more responsibility — and pressure — this season.
“They all are hungry. I think the way we build on that is to put them in as many situations as possible where they are feeling the pressure they felt at sectionals,” Lyerla said. “They were three of the freshmen last year who … they all are travel ballplayers. I knew they were going to be good coming in, but their level of play exceeds what our average player has had by quite a bit.”
The aforementioned players all will hold starting roles as sophomores, Lyerla said.
This spring, the team hits the field with a “wear it close to the vest” mindset regarding the upcoming campaign: do what got you there.
“We just have to continually remind them that it is a process. That we have to trust that process,” Lyerla said. “We want to be the best team we can be, and at the end of the season and anything that happens throughout the season is just a process. We will continue with that same theme.”
The Lady Panthers graduated two from last year’s squad: Kyndra Drake (2B) and Hope Borkenhagen (P).
The loss of Drake is a tough pill to swallow, Lyerla said, but the younger players will benefit from watching her the past few years.
Added Lyerla: “[She] started in the infield for every game for the past four years for us, earning all-conference, all-district and all-region recognition each year. Kyndra was our leader last year and leaves an impressive model of what it looks like to lead on the field for our future players.”
On the injury front, junior Cadence Swank is out for the season due to a shoulder injury she sustained during the fall volleyball season.
Katrina Drake: .507 average, .710 slugging.
Emily Shipman: led nearly all offensive categories in 2019: .653 average, slugged 1.120 and drove in 44 runs.
Defensively, Shipman fielded .976 and threw out 39 percent of all base stealers.
Kyleigh Kincaid: hit .415 and slugged .512.
Rachel Essary: hit .538, slugged 1.015, and compiled a 2.64 ERA en route to a 17-1 record.