2022 Spring Preview: Sparta Softball

By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

Despite having only one player with varsity experience going into last season, Sparta was ranked 9th in Class 2 and finished the year 15-6, losing three of those games to teams that played in the Final Four. Their season ended in heartbreak in the district tournament with a 9-8 loss to Hollister.

“The 2021 season was the best for Sparta softball in quite some time, but our team is not satisfied,” said head coach Troy McPherson. “We lost in a hard-fought game in the rain during the first round of districts. We are excited to exceed these levels this season.”

Now the Lady Trojans will return all of last season’s starters.

“Our team’s biggest strengths this season will be our depth, experience, and team chemistry,” said McPherson. “Bringing back all 11 varsity players from last year will be extremely beneficial for us this season.”

One of Sparta’s key players is junior pitcher Natalie Wilks. “Natalie returns as one of the top spring softball players in Southwest Missouri,” said McPherson. “Natalie led our team in almost every major statistical category, garnering her first-team all-district, first team all-SWCL, and second team all-region honors.” Wilks had 202 strikeouts with 17 walks in 117 innings pitched in the circle for a 1.68 ERA. She led the team at the plate with a .607 BA, .700 OBP, 33 RBIs, and 3 homeruns.

“Natalie spent this entire off-season continuing to work on improving her craft. She truly is an example of everything a Sparta softball player should be, both on and off the field,” her coach said. Wilks has multiple scholarship offers and plans to play college softball.

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Junior Megan Brown, shortstop, earned first team all-district and all-SWCL as well as second team all-region honors. “She returns after an amazing season in her own right,” said McPherson. Brown had a .500 batting average, a .568 on-base percentage, 29 RBIs, 2 homeruns, and 15 stolen bases. “Defensively, Megan leads our team in everything that she does,” said McPherson. “She plays the shortstop position with tenacity and fluidity. She truly is the heartbeat of this team in that we go as she goes.” Megan is athletically gifted all-around, earning all-SWCL and all-district honors in volleyball, basketball, and softball.

Infielder Averi Leyland, sophomore, batted .409 with a .466 on-base percentage, smacking 19 RBIs, 2 homeruns, and 10 stolen bases, earning her second team all-district and first team all-SWCL honors. “Averi burst on to the scene in her freshman season,” said McPherson. “She played a stellar defensive third base and backed it up at the plate as our leadoff hitter. We are excited to see what the next step in her softball career holds.”

Sophomore first baseman Kenzie Wilson ended last season with a .327 batting average, .514 on-base percentage, with 18 RBIs and 1 homerun. “Kenzie possesses arguably the most raw power at the plate of anyone to play softball for Sparta,” said McPherson. “She has worked tirelessly this off-season to improve at the plate, which I believe will be demonstrated this season.”

Seniors Aysha Fulton and Baylee Williams will play utility. “They are my lone seniors, and as our upperclassmen, I expect them to play a large leadership role for our team,” said McPherson. “Aysha and Baylee will both play multiple positions, filling holes anywhere we need them. Their selfless mindset is key to our team’s success.”

Sophomore outfielder Mya Fulton earned second team all-SWCL honors with a .313 batting average, .421 on-base percentage, and 10 stolen bases. “Mya had a great freshman season and excelled defensively, playing a key role in multiple outfield positions,” said McPherson.

Madeline Brown, sophomore catcher, earned second team all-SWCL honors in her freshman season. “Madeline played great defensively, headlined by her amazing arm behind the plate,” said McPherson. “She showed offensive promise, batting .260 with a .383 OBP, 12 RBIs and 1 homerun.”

Junior outfielder Hailey Bumgarner “is the epitome of everything we look for in a Sparta Trojan softball player,” said McPherson. “Her positivity, work ethic, and leadership set a tone for our softball program. We are excited to see what she can do in a leadership role this season.”

McPherson said a balanced freshman class will also look to compete for varsity playing time, including pitcher Addie Humble and infielder Avery Gardner.

McPherson said the Lady Trojans enter the 2022 season with the highest expectations they’ve ever had. “We come into this season with a very real possibility of receiving a pre-season top 10 state ranking, and our team is more than deserving,” said McPherson. “Our team gained the experience we so desperately needed last season and we’re now poised for our best season yet.”

“This year, we will play our toughest schedule to date, starting the season with three potentially state-ranked opponents and our conference tournament in our first two weeks,” said McPherson. “We will see very quickly what our team is made of, and I am excited to see how our team responds to the challenge. We are very much a team that will have the opportunity to make a deep postseason run.”

“Not only do we return experienced varsity athletes at every position, but with it comes a familiarity among one another,” he added. “We have an amazing group of young women on this team who have done a great job of working together to build a wonderful team mentality. That experience with one another will allow our team to hit the ground running and propel us into an amazing season.”

The Lady Trojans open their season at Seymour March 21.

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