Lady Cats open 2018 softball season

Wes Haddox
Sports Correspondent

After losing a talented group of seniors to graduation last year, the Antlers Ladycats fastpitch softball team expected this season to be a reloading year as only two starters return off of last year's team that advanced to the regional finals. But despite the limited amount of playing experience returning, the 2018 squad does return a lot of young talent. Several players saw action last year and gained valuable experience that will pay off quickly in the new season. After being a senior dominated squad last year, this years team is loaded with underclassmen.

With two seniors on the squad, second baseman Kaleigh Watson and first baseman Alexis Gomez, and only one junior, Gabby Nielsen, the core of the team consists of sophomores and freshmen. Watson and sophomore catcher Gracie Shoemake are the two returning starters from last year's squad but other sophomores who saw playing time last year as freshmen include shortstop Jaelin Moore, third baseman Haley Young, catcher Olivia McCarter, and outfielders Holli Hembree, Kylie Heinrichs, and Legend Bell. Add to this talented sophomore class a small but talented freshman class consisting of pitcher Kattie Bailey and outfielders Lexi Hyde, Allanna Aquero, and Jaylee Baker, and the 2018 edition of the Antlers Ladycats will be a very young but very talented group that is sure to improve as the season progresses. Several of these key players are also utility players which means they have the talent to play several different positions on the field giving coach Tony Marris the ability to experiment with players in different positions when needed to try to find the right combination that will produce wins.

The team has shown moments of great potential at this point early in the season but is struggling to put a whole game together at one time. A good fastpitch softball team must have a strong battery, the pitcher and catcher, a solid defense to back them up, and a steady, consistent lineup that can score runs either with power or with speed. A weakness in any one of these areas can cause problems but a weakness in two or three of those areas can be a recipe for disaster. With seven underclassmen in the starting lineup, the young Ladycats must find a way to overcome their lack of experience with strong, intelligent play and a lot of heart.

After suffering early season losses to three perineal powerhouse teams, the Valliant Lady Dawgs, the Rattan Lady Rams, and the Silo Lady Rebels, Antlers showed that they weren't going to just give up on the season with a much needed 6-1 win over the Soper Lady Red Bears in the Rock Creek Tournament. Even in the losses, the team has shown areas of strength at times but couldn't hold up for seven full innings.

On Thursday, August 16, the team will travel to Tishomingo to compete in the Tishomingo High School Softball Tournament. Antlers will play Madill in their opening round game at 3:30 pm. The tournament will continue into Saturday with all games being played in Tishomingo.