Sometimes it just takes time to see progress.
That’s what Grayson County High School head softball coach Penny Reece has seen from one season to the next out of her club physically and mentally.
“The girls have really worked hard during the offseason,” said Reece. “We were able to get into the weight room through the fall and winter months, and there’s a big difference in both their physical and mental strength from a year ago.”
Last season, the Lady Cougars in their first year under Reece went 13-23 and lost in the 12th District semifinals to Whitesville Trinity.
It didn’t take long for the Lady Cougars to go to work after the season ended.
“Maturity and experience of just another year under their belts, along with being able to simply teach them more about the fastpitch game is showing on the field,” Reece said. “There’s times when I can really see them starting to click, and that’s very exciting.”
The Lady Cougars are still relatively young, with only three seniors — Shelby Davis, Mallory Lindsey and Madi Schultz — on the roster.
“We’re still learning to compete every single day,” Reece said, adding that part of the challenge facing the team is “getting out of their comfort zones, communicating on the field with each other, adjusting to a higher level of accountability as an individual and team, and consistently bringing intensity and focus.”
She said the team has “tried several different defensive alignments trying to find the right combination, and I expect we’ll continue to do so” as the Lady Cougars try and snap a skid of three straight losing seasons.
Davis led Grayson County a year ago in hitting with a .434 batting average — nearly 100 points higher than the next highest hitter.
She led the team in hits (46), runs batted in (39), doubles (13) and home runs (3) and stolen bases (17), and will again start at shortstop. She has signed to continue her career at Midway University.
“We’re expecting a great overall senior season as she has worked extremely hard in the offseason,” Reece said.
Seventh-grader Payton Bowman will be the JV shortstop and “could see varsity time as well,” Reece said.
At catcher, junior Hannah Franklin handled all of the catching duties last season, and, while she will still catch some, Reece said, she has shifted to second base “to strengthen our middle infield.”
Eighth-grader Kinsley Chambers and freshman Reagan Nash also are playing there, and, Reece said of Chambers, she “has been doing a fantastic job behind the plate and only needs to gain experience and maturity.”
At first base, junior Annslee Shartzer is seeing the most action, but could share the job when Lindsey and seventh-grader Ellie Bratcher aren’t pitching.
Shartzer batted .342 last season and led the team in walks with 15 a year ago.
Reece said Franklin “is getting more comfortable each practice and gives us strong infield leadership and communication.” Franklin hit .324 and was second on the team with 33 hits last year.
Bowman also could see time here as well.
At third base, junior Addy Bratcher will start after hitting .242 with a team-high 34 runs scored last season. Seventh-grader Breigh Jones has developed at third base during the middle school season and will compete for time there as well, Reece said.
In the outfield, eighth-grader Elizabeth Haycraft has performed well in preseason in left field, Reece said, and junior Kayla Tubb is expected to “captain our outfield” in center field, Reece said.
“She can be as good as she wants to be with her speed and ability to read the ball off the bat,” Reece said.
In right field, junior Kassidy Chaffins is adjusting well from moving over from left field, Reece said. She said Nash, Jones and Bowman also could also see substantial time in any of the outfield positions.
The Lady Cougars batted .317 as a team last season and Reece is looking for improvement.
“We’ve got to swing the bats with confidence, we look at way too many pitches and get behind in the count,” she said. She said the lineup needs to hit consistently from top to bottom to be successful.
Lindsey returns to the circle after winning 10 games last year and Reece said Lindsey will be counted on for “her leadership.”
Junior Josie Sims and seventh-grader Ellie Bratcher also are expected to see plenty of pitching time. Sims won three games last season.
“They’re three very different pitchers as far as speed and hopefully we can utilize this against teams,” Reece said.
Bowman and Jones also could see innings to help with the pitching load.
“They understand that so much of our success starts with them and their leadership on the mound, hitting their spots, cutting down on wild pitches, walks and staying out of the red zone,” said Reece, who has 693 career wins in 24 seasons. She noted that keeping them healthy also is important.
The schedule this season includes a spring break trip to Alabama.
“The schedule is a tough one designed to challenge them every single day, but the goals and expectations are high,” Reece said. “We have a great group of young ladies dedicated and determined to change the culture of GCHS fastpitch. They’re going to be exciting to watch this season.”
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