By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Fall or spring, the Pleasant Hope softball program competes for championships.
The Lady Pirates proved their worth in their first season of spring competition last year.
Pleasant Hope won 27 games and knocked off two-time defending state champion Strafford to win a district title.
Pleasant Hope, which previously competed in fall softball before last season, has won seven district titles and a state championship dating back to 2009.
The Lady Pirates have their eyes on the postseason again this year with a seasoned group returning to the field.
“We return seven players who either started full time or saw significant playing time,” said Kevin McVey, who enters his seventh season as Pleasant Hope’s head coach. “Several girls will be in different positions, so getting them ready might be a challenge.
“Advancing in the playoffs is always our goal and the girls would love to have another shot at a state title.”
Pleasant Hope returns a five-player senior class, four of which earned postseason accolades of some kind.
“We did lose quite a bit of offensive production but I still feel like we have a good lineup and should be able to score runs,” McVey said. “Figuring out the batting order may be the biggest challenge. We have some speed and hope to use that to our advantage as well.”
Pitcher Jaydin Lee comes off an all-state season in which she hit .393 with 31 RBIs and went 23-4 overall with a 1.91 ERA in the circle. She’s a three-year starter.
“She’s improved each year,” McVey said. “She’s one of our team leaders. As usual, we do well as a team when she does well.”
Lindsey Gettle (catcher) and Janae Shirk (outfielder) were named all-conference as juniors.
Gettle hit .355 with 33 RBIs and 34 runs. She provides vital experience and leadership behind the plate.
“Having an experienced catcher is a must for a team to be successful,” McVey said. “Lindsey is one of the best around and helps our pitchers be the best they can be. We expect her to also be one of our offensive leaders.”
Shirk enters her third season as a starting outfielder. She hit .392 with 27 RBIs and 35 runs last season.
After starting in left the past two seasons, Shirk will move to center field this spring.
“She is a very good outfielder with a great arm,” McVey said. “She is also one of our better hitters and she will be moving up in the lineup to take advantage of that.”
Macie Warner (IF) split time at first base and a DP role last season. She hit .313 with 14 RBIs and 21 runs.
McVey anticipates Warner will become Pleasant Hope’s starting third baseman this year.
“She has the ability to play several positions on the infield,” McVey said. “And she has a way of coming up with a big hit when needed.”
Fellow senior Lydia Dunaway will likely take over for Warner at first base. Dunaway hit .297 last season.
“Lydia is a very good defensive player and one of our hardest workers,” McVey said. “She is quiet but determined and will do whatever it takes to make the play and get an out.”
The junior class includes Bailey Stokes (IF) and Keighlyn Johnson (OF).
Stokes was first team all-conference and second team all-region. She hit a team-high .512 with 49 runs and 26 RBIs in the leadoff spot.
She will move from third to shortstop this spring.
“Stokes gets our offense rolling,” McVey said. “She can get on base numerous ways and runs the bases well.”
Johnson was a key reserve last season. She filled in for injured starters and played when Pleasant Hope threw its No. 2 starter.
“We are expecting Keighlyn to move to the outfield full time and continue to improve and help the team,” McVey said.
Returning sophomores include Jianna Halbrook (OF/P) and Katie Chapman (IF/C).
Halbrook was one of the top freshmen in the area last spring. She was named first team all-conference and second team all-region.
Halbrook hit .364 with 41 RBIs, 31 runs and two homers. She also went 4-0 as a starter and closed several games.
“She improved in the outfield and was very successful at the plate,” McVey said. “She is a great teammate, willing to do whatever we ask of her.”
Chapman shined in a reserve role last season and filled in when injuries affected Pleasant Hope.
“She is a very good defender and able to play multiple positions,” McVey said. “Our plan is to have her play second and possibly catch some for us this year. We are excited about what she brings to the team.”
While the lineup works itself out, Pleasant Hope will rely on its pitching and defense.
“We return two very good pitchers,” McVey said. “Defensively, we have the talent and ability to be very good.”
Pleasant Hope finished 27-4 overall last spring. The Lady Pirates beat Plato in the state playoffs before losing to Potosi in the quarterfinal round.
The Lady Pirates graduated three senior starters in Abby Henson (shortstop), Katelyn Stewart (centerfield) and Courtney Jenkins (second base).
Henson is the biggest loss in terms of production. The first team all-state infielder hit .444 with 31 RBIs, 49 runs and four homers.
Stewart also leaves a big production void as she hit .473 with 35 RBIs and 34 runs. She was a second team all-state selection.
Jenkins was a second team all-conference honoree.
“They will be hard to replace,” McVey said. “Each one was a starter on defense and contributed so much at the plate. All three were leaders on the field and in the classroom. They will be missed.”
Two sophomores and two freshmen will give Pleasant Hope additional varsity depth.
The sophomores are Alexis Daugherty (OF) and Rachel Jenkins (IF). Daugherty played a courtesy runner role last season, while Rachel Jenkins is competing for the starting job at second base.
“Alexis is very quick and runs the bases well. She has improved as an outfielder and could see some playing time there this season,” McVey said. “Rachel’s improved a lot at second base. She works hard and wants to get better each day.”
The freshmen are Kylie Tucker (IF) and Jaylin Miner (UTL). Both can play multiple positions well, McVey said.
“Kylie has a good bat and is very coachable,” McVey said. “We have confidence that she will help us out a lot this season.
“Jaylin could see some playing time in the outfield or possibly even pitch some. She is a good hitter and very fast on the bases, not afraid to put pressure on the defense.”
Pleasant Hope hosts Purdy on March 20 for its regular season opener.