MSHSAA announced on Monday, Mar. 16 that they would not be cancelling spring sports due to the Coronavirus. There will be delays to the start of the season and you can read the full MSHSAA release on spring sports by clicking here. Many area schools have called off classes and extracurricular activities through at least Apr. 3 and will reassess at that time. We will continue to post our spring previews. Please note that this preview was written before delays for the spring season were announced.
By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Ash Grove Lady Pirates softball team went 5-18 last season.
But losing one senior (Patsy Gorski) and returning a strong, balanced core are giving promise to the spring.
“We are rebuilding the program right now and should be good to go for the spring,” said head coach Pam Swift — who enters her 20th season.
The team returns eight lettermen to the field this season, but the loss of Gorski is still emanating.
“Yeah, she is a hard one to replace,” Swift said of Gorski. “But we have been rebuilding for the past couple of years.”
Back in the fold are junior first baseman Emma Eagleburger (1st Team All-Conference, 2nd Team All-District), senior center fielder Riley Hammons (2nd Team All-Conference, All-District), catcher Emma McClelland (2nd Team All-District), pitcher Maddie Mobley (All-Conference Honorable Mention), and shortstop McKenzie Lutz (All-Conference Honorable Mention).
“I am pretty excited about this year. Last year, we started a freshman pitcher and catcher,” said Swift.
This season, McClelland returns to catcher, and Mobley returns to the circle.
Added Swift: “They have a year of experience behind them.”
The transition from one year to the next has been palpable for the all-district catcher.
“She improved tremendously since her freshman year,” Swift said of her catcher. “I am pretty excited to have her back as a sophomore.”
Swift admitted how much of a benefit it is when a starting pitcher and catcher reside in the same class — improving almost in unison.
“They have played together ever since they were little kids,” Swift said of the duo. “They communicate well and are comfortable with each other. They have been playing together since about the fifth grade.”
Other key returning starters include junior Briley Bagley, junior Alexis Long, junior McKenzie Lutz, McClelland, and senior Taylor Spickard: all of whom lettered last spring.
Big things are expected from Eagleburger, as she led the team last year in hitting (.350 avg. and a .902 fielding percentage).
While the roster is spread out from freshmen to seniors, surprisingly, fans should keep an eye on the incoming players.
“They are just a good core group of athletes who work hard,” Swift said of her freshmen. “I expect a couple of them to step up … one will probably step up and play in the outfield, and one will probably be my DP [designated player].”
Comprising the freshman class are: Chelsea Andrus, Shandonna Redmond, Savanna Pratt, Jamalynn Atchinson, Nakayla Gray, and Renley Bagley.
“Atkinson, who is a freshman, and Long, who is a junior, will have some pitching responsibilities,” Swift said. “It is just really hard to tell. The next couple of weeks are going to be really interesting.”
Approximately four to five positions are up in the air, said Swift.