By Matt Turer — @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Ben Phillips
2017 RECORD: 14-4
2017 POSTSEASON: DISTRICT CHAMPIONSHIP: Lost 10-0 to Strafford
RETURNING PLAYERS: 1B Abbey Penley (Jr.), 2B McKayla Miller (Sr.), SS Quincy Hall (Sr.), 3B Janet Garrett (Sr.), C Allie Hall (Jr.), P Kaitin Garrett (Jr.), OF Kennedy Hall (So.), OF McKenzie Waters (So.)
Plato has established itself as one of the better spring softball programs in southwest Missouri after making its third straight district championship appearance last season. The Eagles lost to state champion Strafford in that game and have eyes set on a rematch in 2018.
“Expectations are high, these girls are hungry to get the year started and they know that this is a team capable of winning a lot of games,” coach Ben Phillips said. “We are in a tough district, but our goal is to see ourselves returning to the district championship and Plato getting another shot at Strafford.”
GARRETT A LEADER IN THE CIRCLE, AT THE PLATE
The Eagles will lean on an experienced roster while they work towards that goal with seven starters and all-state (2nd Team) junior pitcher Kaitin Garrett returning.
With Hannah Breedlove graduated, expect Garrett to completely take over pitching duties. A peek at her numbers from last season show how much of a good thing that is: 6-3, 61.1 IP, 81 K, 0.80 ERA, 0.75 WHIP. Impressively, her stats at the plate were equally as eye-popping: .574 AVG, 9 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 33 R, 31 RBI, 1.837 OPS.
“Kaitin is an incredibly gifted softball player,” Phillips said. “She has everything you look for as a coach. I think she will see more teams try to work around her this year so her approach at the plate will be her biggest obstacle.
“Pitching is a whole different animal as she has had the luxury of another good arm (Breedlove) to take some of the pressure off pitching an entire season. This year she doesn’t have that and she is going to have to be able to throw every night.”
7 STARTERS A BIG BONUS
Plato’s seven returning starters will be a big advantage this season with the Eagles just two years removed from a run to the state quarterfinals.
Garrett isn’t alone in this lineup. Junior first baseman Abbey Penley (.436 AVG, 1.126 OPS) and junior catcher Allie Hall (.477 AVG., 1.324 OPS) both had great sophomore seasons.
Phillips on Penley: “Abbey is a player that we will need to step up in a big way this year. We are missing some good hitters from the lineup from a year ago and Abbey is one of those players on the verge of being a special player.”
Phillips on Hall: “She has athleticism that other people can only dream of having and she uses that to be one of the best catchers in the area.”
Also back are second baseman McKayla Miller (Sr.), shortstop Quincy Hall (Sr.), third baseman Janet Garrett (Sr.) and outfielders Kennedy Hall (So.) and McKenzie Waters (So.).
Phillips on Miller (.364 AVG., 12 SB): “The definition of a team leader, there are a few of them on this team, but nothing seems to faze McKayla. She has that been there done that mentality on the field that makes her ready for anything.”
Phillips on Quincy Hall (.286 AVG., 17 SB): “A quick agile infielder capable of playing any spot. Her instincts are what every team wants from the shortstop position. She is very quick around the diamond and will be dangerous this year when she gets on.”
Phillips on Garrett (.298 AVG., 10 SB): “She has a cannon of an arm for third base and when she gets ahold of one with her bat…watch out.”
Phillips on Kennedy Hall (.304 AVG.): “Kennedy played in the outfield last year surrounded by some pretty good athletes. She will have to learn to come out of their shadow this year because she is the only outfielder on the roster from last year with significant varsity experience. She has speed and work ethic to take that next step.”
Phillips on Waters (.333 AVG.): “McKenzie didn’t get a lot of playing time last year on the varsity level, but at the end of the year came up big for the team. She needs to use that to build some momentum at the beginning of the season.”
The Eagles will also look to freshman Hannah Cannon. Cannon played with the varsity group over the summer and is expected to compete for playing time