By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2019 was another banner year for Reeds Spring softball.
The Lady Wolves finished with an 18-6 record before falling to Rogersville in the Class 3 District 11 championship.
After posting back-to-back 18-win seasons, head coach Scott Walker believes the experience could help his team take that critical next step into the postseason.
“I thought we had a really good season in 2019,” Walker said. “We fell a little short in the district championship game but overall we had some outstanding young ladies compete for us and I think our returning players are hungry to get back to that game.”
To do so, the Lady Wolves must first replace a trio of key players, including two-time all-state pitcher Izzy Erickson.
The two-time Big 8 Conference Pitcher of the Year leaves the program holding several school records, including career home runs (19), career batting average (.502), single season batting average (.570), single season ERA (0.84), career ERA (1.62), single season strikeouts (230), career strikeouts (743), career shutouts (21) and career no-hitters (6).
Erickson will continue her softball career at Butler Community College.
“Overall, one of the top players we’ve ever had in our program,” Walker said of Erickson. “Speed, power and great defense during her career.”
All-state catcher Maddison Cantrell and right fielder/pitcher Brooke Davis also depart the program.
Cantrell will play her college softball at Fort Scott Community College.
“We graduated three starters and had two other starters choose to graduate after their junior years,” Walker said. “We will have some holes to fill, but I feel our returning starters will help us make the transition.”
Leading the charge for Reeds Spring this season will be a pair of all-conference selections in senior center fielder Ashley Nolan (.386 BA, 21 SB) and junior shortstop Lexi Essick (.313 BA).
The pair are joined by senior first baseman Kaleala Vangenderen, junior second baseman Alexis Baskins and senior outfielder Cassidy Quick.
With five open starting spots in the lineup, the Lady Wolves will turn to a host of varsity newcomers, including senior Gracee Chase; juniors Trinity Boyd and Neely Redfearn; and sophomores Allisyn Vance, Ally Fletcher, Mariah Miller and Angel Dowdy.
Walker also believes several players within a very deep freshman class could compete for varsity playing time in Wynston Crain, Jamie Valentine, Sedona Schrunk, Ember Dawani, Kiley Stewart and Olivia Brock.
“We’re going to struggle a little while we replace five starting positions and most of our varsity innings but this group has worked really hard all summer and the chemistry has been very good,” Walker said. “The number of girls that have participated in summer weight program, summer practices and summer games have been consistently in the 15-20 range, and that’s a decent number.”
While Fletcher will likely start the season in the circle, Walker believes Crain, Vangenderen and Stewart could see time as Reeds Spring moves on from the Erickson era.
“Right now we have four kids that threw innings for us this summer,” Walker said. “I can see us using all four at different times during the season. They have put some pressure on themselves this summer because of who they are replacing. They’ve worked hard, and they are making great strides.”
After losing a significant amount of productivity to graduation, Walker expects some growing pains; however, he also believes his team will quickly push through the varsity learning curve and become competitive sooner rather than later.
“We have to replace about 63% of our offense, and I think our kids will work hard to make sure we maintain a certain level that our fans have come to expect,” Walker said. “Defensively, we will need to make sure we are reacting and moving with pitches, backing up our teammates and not give our opponents extra outs each inning.”
Reeds Spring opens its season Aug. 28 at home against Carl Junction.