By Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Team: McDonald County Mustangs
Coach: Heath Alumbaugh
2019 Results: 21-3 (Lost 8-7 to Logan-Rogersville in Class 3 sectionals)
Opening Day 2020: Aug. 28 vs. Carthage
McDonald County Mustangs softball begins a new decade with a new leader, but the same set of expectations: Win a conference title, and then win a district championship.
“The expectations for McDonald County softball never change,” first-year head coach Heath Alumbaugh said. “Coach Rawlins left the program in a great spot and we are not looking to make major changes to the system.”
Alumbaugh may be the new head coach, but he’s not new to the program. Or to McDonald County. A 2001 McDonald County High School graduate, he’s spent the past few seasons as an assistant coach under Rawlins, who went 99-37 and won three district titles as five years as head coach, and was part of the Mustangs football and baseball staffs before that.
The Mustangs enter the Alumbaugh era coming off back-to-back district titles and a combined 45-8 record over the past two seasons. And there’s belief that success can, should, and will continue.
“We have a great mix of returners as well as some very talented athletic players coming into the program,” Alumbaugh said. “We expect this group to be able to compete at the top of the conference standings and put us in a position to possibly play for another district championship.”
Looking ahead at 2020
The Mustangs, who haven’t lost at home since 2017 (15-0), have what high school softball coaches dream of: a formidable and often unhittable 1-2 pitching punch.
Alexa Hopkins (Sr.) and Madeline McCall (Jr.) were both Class 3 All-Region (Districts 9-12) pitchers last season.
“We are anchored by two pitchers that have an all-out attack mentality in the circle as well as very different pitch arsenals,” Alumbaugh said. “Madeline has established herself as a power pitcher, and we know what we will get from Hopkins—a pitcher that throws strikes and forces her opponents to beat her. She will not beat herself.”
McCall (First Team All-Region) appeared in a team-high 16 games in 2019, going 9-2 with a 2.33 ERA (0.87 WHIP) while striking out 141 in 84.2 innings. She also hit .377 at the plate.
Hopkins (Second Team All-Region), who hasn’t a lost a start since her freshman year in 2017, went 12-0 with a 1.66 ERA (0.91 WHIP) last year, striking out 52 in 67.1 innings.
Hopkins was third on the team with 11 extra-base hits last season, batting .394 with 13 runs and 23 RBIs.
The Mustangs also return starters in catcher Reagan Myrick (Soph.) and third baseman Adasyn Leach (Jr.).
“Adasyn will provide some veteran leadership to our infield,” Alumbaugh said of Leach, who played shortstop last season.
Myrick’s .420 average is highest amongst returning starters. She was named Second Team All-Region in 2019.
“Reagan did a great job coming into a tough position as a freshman last year,” Alumbaugh said. “She took on the responsibility of handling a veteran pitching staff, and she established herself as a quality catcher. She will once again provide a sense of continuity to our battery for this season. Reagan also established herself as a hitter who will provide us with many quality at bats in our lineup.”
Competing for open spots this season are a plethora of newcomers in senior Deorica Zamora (OF); juniors Mariana Salas (2B/C), Zoe Parish (2B), Madison Grider (OF) and Melanie Gillming (UTIL); and freshmen Carlee Cooper (SS), Katelynn Townsend (OF), Nevaeh Dodson (OF) and Natalie Gillming (UTIL).
“The talent and experience that we have in the circle and behind the plate will anchor our team this year,” Alumbaugh said. “I’m a believer in the fact that our pitching can set the tone for us every day when we take the field, and Myrick provides the stability behind the plate that allows those two to have confidence to throw any pitch in any count.”
Dealing with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic
McDonald County began their summer workouts in June but was shut down after only two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team was able to restart practice again during the second half of July.
“COVID-19 has made this upcoming year challenging in many ways for us and many other programs,” Alumbaugh said. “Our girls have done a good job of continuing to work and will be ready to go. I think I found a great quote [from legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden] that fits us well, ‘Things turn out well for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”