By Chris Parker
Nevada softball has won back-to-back district titles. Last year, the Lady Tigers won 16 games and claimed the Class 3 District 13 title before falling to Savannah in the state quarterfinals.
“We are excited about the opportunity to build off our success the past two seasons. We did graduate three seniors who played every inning last year and leave some big shoes to fill, but we also return a significant percentage of our lineup from last year,” Nevada head softball coach Danny Penn said. “Our returning players will need to fill bigger leadership roles, which they’ve already begun to do, and our young players need to have the confidence to realize they can step in and have success. My challenge to our team so far has been to focus on not being content with how good you are today, but challenge yourself and your teammates to get better every day.”
Nevada will look for leadership from a group of five senior players.
“We have a number of leaders who lead in different ways,” Penn said. “We have five seniors on our roster, and two of them – Abby Harder and Tylin Heathman – will be starting their fourth year at the varsity level. They bring a ton of experience, intensity, and leadership, but we also have Maleigha Hinton, Blair Wilson, and Mariah Vanskike who bring their own unique leadership qualities that will help us throughout the season.”
Heathman, who will play shortstop, earned first-team all-conference honors on the infield last year. She hit .459 with 30 runs scored last year. Harder could see time all over the field at pitcher, third base and shortstop. She knocked in 13 runs while scoring 14 last year. Hinton is also in the mix to pitch as well as play second base and the outfield. Wilson will slide into a spot in left field with Vanskike being in the mix at one of the other two outfield spots. Vanskike could also see time at third base.
Sophomore Kristin Buck is the third player who could see time in the circle pitching along with playing third base or catcher.
Bailey Ast, who was named first-team all-conference in the outfield as a sophomore, will likely see a lot of innings behind the plate. Ast hit .377 with 27 runs scored last year. She is also a candidate for time at second base. Freshman Kara Phillips is another option at catcher or in the outfield, as Nevada looks to replace second-team all-conference catcher Hailee Lundine who graduated.
Around the infield, Claire Pritchett will start at first base after earning first-team all-conference honors on the infield as a sophomore. Pritchett was a big bat for Nevada after hitting .480 with a .552 on-base percentage last season. She scored 20 runs and drove in another 22.
Sophomore Teresa Dawn along with freshmen Skyler Burns and Jerica Collins will all compete for time in the outfield.
“I think the experience of our returning players will be a major strength. A number of these young ladies have been playing softball for a long time. That, combined with our postseason success the past two seasons, will hopefully have them feeling prepared for what the season will entail. I think we’re also extremely athletic and have a number of players who can play a number of positions. I hope we’ll be solid in all three phases of the game, but I really feel we should be a strong hitting team,” Penn said. “It’s a cliché, but we have to make the routine defensive plays and not just show up and expect to have success. We have to play every inning like it’s a 0-0 game. If we do that, I think we’ll have a good year.”
Nevada opens the season on Aug. 31 at home against Webb City.
“We have high expectations this year. Coach Wolfe and myself expressed that on the first day of practice and that was echoed by our seniors,” Penn said. “We hope to once again defend our district title and hope to make another deep run in the postseason. I’m excited about the potential that our team has and hope that we’re able to work hard and reach it.”