2020 Fall Preview: Neosho Softball

By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

Neosho coach Catie Cummins enters practices with admittedly a nice problem to have, a slew of candidates to choose from for starting jobs for the Lady Wildcats.

“We’ve got some big decisions to make,” Cummins said. “I was chatting with our assistant coaches that it’s better than not having options. The players are putting us in position to make decisions. I want them competing on the field every day at practice and we’ll figure out who earns what spot.”

Neosho has standouts in junior outfielder Kaitlyn Killion and sophomore catcher McKaylie Forrest.

Killion was a unanimous All-COC First-Team choice last year, after she hit .432 with four triples and 26 runs scored.

“That says something about the player she is,” Cummins said of Killion being a first-teamer on every COC coach’s ballot. “We expect that out of her this year, too. She’s clearly capable of it. She doesn’t necessarily stand out when you watch her, but when you look back on a game you see that she was 3-for-4 and the one time she got out she hit the ball hard. She’s not flashy and is a tiny, little thing. But she gets the job done.”

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Forrest burst upon the varsity scene in a big way last year, hitting .424 with a .479 on-base percentage and 22 RBIs. She was the lone freshman named to the All-COC First-Team.

“I think she’s the best catcher in the conference,” Cummins said. “I would choose her over everybody else’s catcher every single time. She’s so smart. You tell her something one time and it’s locked in. She’s not perfect, but doesn’t make many mistakes. She understands the game. She expects everyone else to be on it, too. It’s nice to have that kind of leadership, especially from a young player.”

Cummins is toying with the idea of moving Forrest from the middle of Neosho’s batting order to lead-off, after seeing her shine in that role during summer ball. Forrest helped the Midwest Batbusters out of Nixa claim the Fastpitch America Softball Association World Series 16U championship.

“It makes sense because she gets on base a lot,” Cummins said. “If she’s getting on base hitting leadoff and there’s nobody there to hit her in, it doesn’t make sense. But we have a lot of balance in our lineup. She started out last year hitting fourth and we moved her to third. I’m a big Oklahoma fan and (Sooners coach Patty Gasso) puts her power hitters at the front of her lineup, so there is somebody there getting on base all the time.”

Neosho, which was 18-8 last year, has four more returnees who hit .300-plus. Senior shortstop Sierra Jones hit .384, junior outfielder Lily Graue .367, Olivia Campbell .367, and senior Brittany Winchester .333.

Cummins values Jones’ experience.

“Sierra has started at shortstop since her freshman year. She is a true veteran,” Cummins said. “She hopes to continue to play somewhere (beyond high school) and is getting looks from jucos. She is very consistent at the plate. She hits a lot of line drives and always gives you a good at-bat by seeing several pitches. Defensively, she has a good arm and good range. She’s not real vocal. But I think that will change this year. She hasn’t had to be vocal because she’s been surrounded by upperclassmen who took on leadership roles.”

Campbell developed into a nice surprise last year. With Neosho graduating four starting infielders from a year ago, she could be moved from the outfield and become a leader in the new-look infield.

“Olivia came on at the end of the year,” Cummins said “I think I should have given her an opportunity earlier. Once she got an opportunity, she never looked back. I don’t know if she will play right field again. She will probably open in the infield.”

Cummins feels Killion and Graue will be difference-makers defensively.

“Not a lot of fly balls are going to drop in our outfield,” she said. “I love having quick outfielders. They’re going to steal hits from people.”

The Lady Wildcats have two options in the center circle. Brittany Winchester was 3-1 over six starts and 28 innings last year. Chloe Patterson could throw, as well.

“Pitching is a question,” Cummins said. “Brittany had five or six wins. She had wins against Carl Junction, Joplin and Lamar. Chloe finds a way to get people out. She throws a lot of strikes and moves the ball around the zone. Her eighth-grade year, she was our main pitcher and we went 15-3.”

Others pushing for starting positions are Abbie Carpenter, Trinity Drake, Maelynn Garrett and Baylie Bowers.

“I don’t think it’s clear-cut what the infield will look like,” Cummins said. “We’ll figure out what pieces work out the best. I think about that every day. I have a good idea who play first base, but we have six sophomores who are fighting for our third base, second base, first base and right field jobs. It’s a toss-up. We have options.”

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