By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Run it back. Again.
The Bolivar Liberators return a familiar lineup this fall. After winning a district championship with a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores in 2018, those players are now proven varsity veterans heading into 2020.
Naturally, expectations are high.
“We have high expectations for this group mainly because they have been playing together for two years now,” said Bolivar softball coach Brian Thompson “They know what it takes to get the job done.”
One of the area’s best softball teams for the last two years, Bolivar is poised for more postseason success in 2020. The Liberators are seeking their third straight district championship.
“We return our entire starting lineup,” Thompson said. “At this time, everyone’s healthy and ready to go.”
Bolivar returns ace and shortstop Katie Brooks. The senior and University of Kansas commit earned second team all-state honors in Class 3 last season.
As a pitcher, Brooks went 15-5 overall with a 1.28 ERA, 252 strikeouts and only 20 walks in 131 innings pitched (.672 WHIP).
At the plate, she hit .443 with an .804 slugging percentage, six homers (and 13 other extra-base hits), 30 RBIs and 37 runs.
Brooks, a four-year starter, is one of the top players to come out of the Ozarks in recent years.
“Her numbers have been consistent from day one of her freshman year and we see no reason for that to change,” Thompson said. “When not pitching she is at shortstop. She has great range and a very strong arm.”
Bolivar welcomes back three more seniors in centerfielder Emme Hall, utility Ashton Lynn and outfielder Karissa Rickman.
Hall, the speedster on the team, earned second team all-state honors last season.
She hit .402 (.458 on-base percentage), with 13 extra-base hits, 24 RBIs, 35 runs and eight steals.
“Emme keeps getting better every year and we believe the same will happen again this year,” Thompson said. “Emme is another very good hitter and can cover some major ground in the outfield along with having a very strong arm.”
Lynn, a first team all-district selection, does a little bit of everything for the Liberators. She’s played third base, catcher and outfield over the last two years.
Last season, Lynn hit .316 with six extra-base hits, 10 RBIs and 22 runs.
“Her offensive numbers improved a lot last fall and we look for her to continue improving this year,” Thompson said. “She should hit somewhere in the middle of our lineup and play (primarily) at third base.”
Rickman gives Bolivar solid speed and defense at the left field spot. The second team all-district selection hit nearly .340 last season with 14 RBIs and 18 runs.
“She has great range and a good arm,” Thompson said. “She brings a great deal of speed to our team. With her consistent bat, we look for her to hit somewhere in the middle of our lineup.”
Bolivar returns a strong junior class, many of whom have two years of varsity experience.
Avery McClure (SS/OF) was a first team all-region selection last year. She hit .438 (.733 slugging) with five homers, 41 RBIs and 33 runs.
“Avery’s another athlete who has very good range, a very good arm and reads the ball well off of the bat,” Thompson said. “She keeps getting stronger and better, so we feel her numbers can continue to go up.”
Paige Severns was second team all-region at first base. She hit .364 with 11 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs and 13 runs.
“Paige is the type of hitter who can hit to all fields and does it well,” Thompson said.
Bolivar returns four more starters who were all-district, meaning the Liberators’ entire lineup earned postseason honors of some type.
Mollie Klaser thrived in the designated player (DP) role. She hit nearly .340 with 22 total hits, 18 RBIs and 18 runs.
“Mollie gave us eight hitters in our lineup who hit over .300 for the season,” Thompson said. “She hit in the bottom part of our lineup last year but could move up this year and also see time at first base.”
Jadyn Hamilton split time in the outfield and in the circle last season.
At the plate, Hamilton hit .250 with (.400 on-base percentage) with 13 RBIs and 16 runs. As a pitcher, she went 7-2 overall with a 1.79 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 13 walks in 44 innings pitched.
She figures to have a similar role this year.
“She did a great job for us at both positions,” Thompson said. “She struggled a little at the plate as a sophomore but we feel that will turn around this fall.”
Shae Smith enters her third season as the starting second baseman. She hit .341 with six extra-base hits, 17 RBIs and 23 runs last season.
Smith fills a key role in Bolivar’s lineup as the No. 9 hitter.
“She does a great job from that slot and sets the table for the top of our order,” Thompson said.
Catcher Apryl Zeno is another three-year starter in Bolivar’s infield. She hit .293 with nine RBIs and four runs in her sophomore season.
“Apryl handles our pitching staff very well and her skills behind the dish are getting better every year,” Thompson said. “She has a very strong arm that can deter would-be base threats.”
Thompson said the Liberators should be solid in most areas. If there’s room for improvement, it’s on defense.
“I believe we’ll continue to keep hitting the ball well and I feel that our pitching will be just as solid as it has been lately,” Thompson said. “Defensively, we should be OK, however, we do need to cut down the number of errors that we had last fall.”
The Liberators went 23-7 overall last year and won their second straight district title. Bolivar beat Buffalo and Osage in districts before falling to eventual Class 3 state champion Helias Catholic in the sectional round.
Sophomore Brookelyn Cline (OF/P) and junior Kirsten Dickerson (OF/P) return to a strong bench unit for Bolivar. This year, both could see more time in the regular playing rotation.
Cline saw action in nine varsity games as a freshman. She allowed no runs, two hits, two walks and struck out nine in six varsity innings.
Cline added two RBIs, three runs and no error in the outfield on defense.
“We look for her to see more innings in the circle this year and content for an outfield spot as well,” Thompson said.
Dickerson was primarily a pinch runner last year, scoring nine runs over 17 games, and also played error-free defense in the outfield.
“We look for Kirsten to continue as a runner for us and contend for an outfield spot as well,” Thompson said.
Bolivar travels to Branson on August 25 for a four-team jamboree. The Liberators start the regular season August 28-29 at the Sullivan Invitational.
It’s the last season for Bolivar as an independent program. Next season, the Liberators will join the Ozark Conference in all sports.