By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Salem’s softball program made big strides last season.
After posting just eight victories a year before, the Lady Tigers finished with an 18-6 record before falling to Osage in the Class 3 District 10 tournament.
Salem head coach Phillip Karr, entering his fourth year at the helm, believes his program can continue building on its recent success.
“I believe our girls learned that being committed every day in practice and improving fundamentally makes a huge difference,” Karr said. “The girls that are returning starters got to see that we don’t want to go into the ninth inning because we lost three games in the ninth …lol. Our returners also improved a lot and became better mental hitters. Our girls learned the importance of being good bunters and we improved a lot in that area.”
Salem bids farewell to a quartet of graduated seniors in second baseman Nina Howard (.524 BA, 35 RBI), pitcher Addie Konkel (.347 BA, 35 RBI, 2.575 ERA, 102 K), third baseman Anna McDaniel (.351 BA, 22 RBI) and left fielder/defensive specialist Malia Terrill.
Howard and Konkel earned all-district honors, and Howard was also an all-region selection.
While replacing graduated productivity is no small task, the Lady Tigers are fortunate to return five key components from last season’s squad.
Junior catcher Denise Stoner hit .440 last season, stole 14 bases and drew 18 walks. She hit .500 with runners in scoring position and earned all-district honors as a sophomore.
“Denise is a really athletic catcher and does a great job keeping the ball in front of her and she has a good arm,” Karr said. “She has been our lead-off hitter as a freshman and sophomore.”
Senior first baseman Reggie Parks hit .300 last season with 23 runs batted in.
“Reggie has been our starting first baseman since she was a freshman,” Karr said. “She was an all-district and all-region player her sophomore year. She had some tough luck last season and, hopefully, her exceptional offensive potential returns.”
Sophomore shortstop Ashton Bowers hit .292 as a freshman, drew 17 walks and posted a .433 on-base percentage.
“Ashton is a really good athlete that makes some sensational defensive plays,” Karr said. “She works at getting better on a consistent basis and learned a lot last year being thrown in the fire in a key position.”
Sophomore outfielder/third baseman Savannah Manthey hit .383 last season with 25 runs batted in and a .500 on-base percentage.
“Savannah was our designated hitter last year for our left fielder Malia Terrill,” Karr said. “She hit .383, which is outstanding for a freshman. We are going to need her to step up defensively for us this season.”
Junior center fielder Chloe Bonner hit .402 in 2019 with 35 runs batted in and earned all-district honors.
“Chole is a well-rounded player,” Karr said. “She is a very good defensive outfielder that dives and catches a lot of balls. She has a good arm, as well, to keep runners from scoring from second on a base hit quite often.”
In addition to its returning cast, Salem has a host of varsity newcomers eager to make an impact this season including junior outfielder Bella Jadwin, junior pitcher Micah Bobbitt, senior outfielder/catcher Grace Kunkel, senior outfielder Desirae Scott, senior outfielder Aryssa Smith, freshman third baseman Faith Kaminski, junior second baseman Andrea Bray and junior outfielder Kennedy Chapman.
“I believe our biggest strength will be the fact that we have a core group of returners that have gotten a lot of varsity experience and have been successful,” Karr said. “I believe we will have a strong defensive infield.”
That infield will look to boost Bobbitt’s first season as a varsity starter in the circle.
“Micah Bobbitt is a junior that has been our primary junior varsity pitcher the past two seasons,” Karr said. “ She will get the nod starting the season and be given an opportunity to prove what she is made of. Our other options currently would be Ashton Bowers who is our shortstop.”
Karr believes his team has all the elements necessary to compete for a postseason run, particularly if Salem happens to land in a favorable district.
“We were in a district with Bolivar and Osage last year, and the two years before that we were in Sullivan’s district — who had a girl that will be pitching Division I this year,” Karr said. “The difference maker for us will be how much we have grown as players and how competitive we have been. Softball can wear on you mentally; you have to believe you can beat anyone in your district if you ever plan on winning one.”
Salem opens its season Aug. 28 at East Carter.