By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For most softball programs, an 18-7 mark and district runner-up finish would indicate a successful campaign.
Ozark isn’t most programs.
Falling to Kickapoo in the district final, the Lady Tigers snapped a three-year district title streak and season win total of at least 20 games that runs all the way back before iPhones were a thing.
Entering his fourth year, Ozark head coach Jimmy Nimmo believes the adversity faced last season will only help his program mature and develop — especially with zero graduation losses in the lineup.
“Last season, we had some ups and downs on the defensive side of the game,” Nimmo said. “We battled through some tough games and came out on top. So, I know we can compete with everyone we have on our schedule.”
A quartet of seniors return to the Lady Tigers’ lineup including infielder Athena Andrews (.377 BA), catcher Raegan Dickinson (.324 BA), outfielder/infielder Madison Spies (.288 BA) and pitcher Hattie Depee (17-6, 2.495 ERA).
A pair of juniors also return in outfielder Kenna Mayfield (.421 BA) and infielder Emily Schmucker (.425 BA). A third junior, center fielder Abby Ford (.478 BA) is recovering from ACL surgery and may miss the entire season.
Sophomore pitcher Savannah Hughes (1-1, 1.81 ERA) rounds out Ozark’s returning nucleus.
A host of varsity newcomers will challenge for playing time, including senior Chloi Carrison, senior Lauren Brice, sophomore Brooklyn Hasler, sophomore Jordyn Foley and junior Remi Watson.
“I have high hopes for this group of ladies,” Nimmo said. “I felt that we grew as a team last season and I know that growth will continue. Team chemistry will be very important to our success. We have a talented group of young ladies and many have the experience on the field to lead us to another great finish.”
In the circle, Ozark will utilize a rotation between Depee, a third-year varsity pitcher and Hughes, who established herself last season as a quality second option.
“Hattie will continue to be our workhorse in the circle and play a big role as a leader for this team,” Nimmo said. “Savannah pitched in 58 out of the 159 innings last season. She and Hattie will more than likely see closer to equal time this season — they bring a good combined balance when they are both throwing well.”
With an experienced lineup in place, Nimmo believes last season’s numbers can only improve and put a competitive Ozark team into ideal positions for wins.
“I feel our offensive numbers will be better this year for sure; however, what will make the biggest impact will be our defense and pitching,” Nimmo said. “These two areas must be better this postseason. If we can keep our ERA under 2.0 this season and our team fielding percentage at least 0.950, then I feel that we will have a chance to go far. Postseason success will be dependent upon those factors and whether or not we can do the small things right.”
If Ozark is to make a run into the postseason, it will do so in the midst of a challenging schedule including the likes of Kickapoo, Bolivar, Rock Bridge, West Plains and McDonald County — plus an always difficult Central Ozarks Conference schedule.
“Our tough schedule will help us get prepared for the postseason,” Nimmo said. “All of our conference opponents have tremendously improved over the last couple of years, so it will be a fight each night in conference play. However, I know with the hard work that we have put in during the off season has prepared us and I feel that our conference record will show that.”
Ozark opens its season Aug. 28 at Jefferson City.