By Derek Shore
Head Coach: Kacy Whitley
2015-16 Record: 17-7 W-L (3rd in SRVC play with 7-2 record) – Beat by Southwest in the semifinal round of Class 1, District 11
Top Players: Ragan Blinzler (P), Ali Raley (C), Jessica Prescott (INF), Hannah Argyris (INF), and Christine Stellwagen (CF)
Despite an early postseason exit, the Pierce City Lady Eagles were once again among the top area softball teams during the spring last year and are poised for bigger things this season, returning two marquee players coupled with a more experienced roster.
Pierce City, which posted a 17-10 overall record and finished 3rd in the Spring River Valley Conference with a 7-2 conference record, suffered a second-round loss via a 20-win Southwest team by a 2-0 blanking.
“We had a well-rounded team last year,” said Pierce City head coach Kacy Whitley, who’s compiled a 69-28 career record over four seasons at the helm. “(However), we lost a few prominent leadership roles due to graduation.”
Among the graduation losses, include a trio of all-conference performers in the form of center fielder Lauren Kennedy, left fielder Jamie Parrigon, and designated hitter Haleigh Stephenson.
On the positive side, the Lady Eagles will be paced by All-State junior Ragan Blinzler. Blinzler, a productive two-way player as a sophomore, went 17-7 in the circle with a 1.80 ERA while notching an impressive 169-to-11 strikeout to walk ratio over 136 innings pitched last spring.
At the plate out of the leadoff spot, she collected 11 doubles, three triples, and 40 total hits for a .563 average through 71 at-bats. Blinzler also drove in 17 runs while swiping 24 bases.
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“Ragan is the communicator and motivator of the team,” Whitley said. “She’s an all-around, go to player. Her mindset on the mound is very methodical and well prepared for each batter. Her knowledge of the game is what gives her an edge on all opponents.
“She’s also my leadoff batter and continues to work hard to improve even the minor mechanical issue and expects nothing of the least. She’s expected to lead the team in on-base percentage. Her speed on the bases allows her to lead in stolen bases and runs scored as well.”
Pierce City will also return their top run producer in junior backstop, Ali Raley. Raley led the Lady Eagles in the majority of their offensive categories last year, putting up a .646 batting clip with 18 doubles, three triples, and one home run. The clean-up hitter also had a whopping 41 RBIs and 51 total hits.
“Ali’s dominant explosion within the batter’s box tends to have the defensive infield rockin’ back on their heels,” Whitley said. “She’s expected to lead in hits, RBIs, and slugging percentage again this year. Her defensive state behind the plate allows very few runners to advance. In the offseason, she has been working on footwork and shaving milliseconds off of her throws.”
Rounding out the returnees includes seniors Hannah Argyris, Kristen Jones, and Jessica Prescott.
Argyris batted .387 with four extra-base hits and 24 total hits, recording seven RBIs and six stolen bases in the process.
“Hannah is our shortstop, who’s not afraid to get a little dirt on her pants and do what’s needed,” Whitley said. “She continues to work on her timing at bat and strengthening her back”
Jones had eight doubles, one triple, and a home run as well, hitting to a .406 mark with 15 RBIs last year.
“Kristen, our first baseman, is a four-year returning starter, who will bring experience to the table and bat in the fifth or sixth hole,” Whitley said. “Doesn’t allow many pass balls which is contributed from a combination of solid throws from other leading seniors and a good scoop with the glove.”
Prescott hit .455 with five doubles, 35 total hits, and 16 RBIs for the season.
“Jessica is our third baseman, who has worked to develop herself throughout the past four years,” Whitley said. “A player, who’s willing to put in extra hours to improve her defensive game. I expect to see her provide more consistency with putting the ball in play and lessening strikeouts.”
Whitley listed five top newcomers, including senior center fielder Christine Stellwagen, who played right last year, but experience and footwork will enable her to patrol center. Other newcomers are sophomores Lexi Eck (OF/2B), Peighton Haddock (DH), and Miya Washburn (OF) as well as freshman Jerika Brown (2B/OF).
Due to injury, Eck did not receive much playing time this past season but has speed and quickness to become an “outfield prospect” and an offensive threat. While she didn’t see varsity action last year, Haddock could see time this year with steady focus on hitting.
A move-in, Washburn has the athleticism to be a top prospect for a varsity position and should have speed on the bases to match. Whitley’s excited about the potential of Brown, a left-handed hitter, who could be a slapper and or bunter for the Lady Eagles.
“There’s more readiness and excitement from the team (this year), “Whitley said. “There’s more determination from the leaders. We expect to be competitive with a stronger offensive lineup. Senior leadership on defense is a key factor in wins this season.”
Pierce City, who expects Purdy, Sarcoxie, and Liberal to present the biggest challenge on their spring schedule, opens the season at home against Liberal on Mar. 27.