By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Carthage’s strong nucleus of established stars has the Lady Tigers in an optimistic mode that they can capture the program’s first post-season championship.
“It’s well known that Carthage has yet to win a district title,” said first-year head coach Stephanie Ray, who served as an assistant at Carthage the past five seasons. “The girls are seeking that first district title for the program and have come in with the kind of work ethic to get us rolling in the right direction. We have a highly competitive group that has put in the work, will look to continue to grow during our season and peak in October.”
The Lady Tigers lost All-COC First-Team outfielder Aubrey Willis and five other starters to graduation from last season’s 13-16 bunch that was a Class 4 District 11 semifinalist. But senior infielder Katie Crowe, sophomore outfielder Landry Cochran and junior pitcher Jensyn Elder are proven performers
Crowe made an exceptional transition from hitting right-handed to being a slap-hitting left-hander last year. Actually, she made it look easy on her way to hitting .371 with 21 runs scored.
“She was hitting right around .500, before she slumped at the end of the year,” Ray said. “She started working as a slapper during the first week of practices. She’s pretty determined. She saw it as a way to be in the lineup every day and she owned it. She made sure she did what she needed to do. She’s the fastest kid on the team.”
Cochran is coming off a freshman campaign in which she batted .340 with 25 RBIs and 20 runs scored. She earned an All-COC Second-Team selection.
“Last year, she was in left field and right field and we could slide her to center this year,” Ray said. “She always had runners on base last year, with Aubry and Katie getting on base, and she hit them in. She came up with big hits at key times. She could end up at the top of our lineup this year.”
Elder, junior Kate Potter and sophomore Ashlynn Jackson represent Carthage’s pitching options. Elder, who had a 4-7 win-loss record and a 3.02 ERA, is the likely starter.
“She was able to get plenty of experience as a freshman when we lost our pitcher (Emily Calhoon) to a torn ACL and she split time with (Calhoon) last year,” Ray said. “Going into her junior year, that experience has helped her confidence. I watched over the summer and she appeared confident. She has a cool approach when she’s out there. She hits her spots well.”
Potter could spell Elder and give opposing hitters a different look.
“She mixes in her off-speed pitch very well,” Ray said.
Other Carthage returnees with starting experience include middle infielder Natalie Rodriguez and junior third baseman Presley Probert.
Rodriguez batted .283 with 15 runs scored before her sophomore season was cut short due to an injury.
Ray values Probert’s glove work at third.
“Defensively last year, she became one of our playmakers,” Ray said. “She got our defense going in districts with big plays against Willard and Webb City. I look for her to do the same this year.”
Newcomers to Carthage’s lineup will be junior outfielder Mary Grace Richmond and senior catcher MaKayla Jennings.
The Lady Tigers’ jayvee was 15-1-1 last year.
Ray is serving as a head coach for the second time in her career. A former All-Great Lakes Valley Conference performer at Drury, she was the head coach at Purdy prior to arriving at Carthage.
“I was fortunate to learn under (former Carthage coach) Mike Godfrey and am excited at this opportunity,” Ray said.
Carthage welcomes first-year assistant Quincy Atwood, a former All-American at Northeast Oklahoma A&M who also played at Texas State under legendary Cat Osterman.