Clarksville, Ark.-Head Softball Coach Laurie Adkins expects to see continued improvement within her program after the Lady Eagles made significant strides in 2012.
Ozarks returns five starters, its top two pitchers and posted wins over two nationally-ranked teams in 2012. The Lady Eagles will be able to rely on a number of juniors and sophomores who saw starting action last season and return one of the most dynamic players in program history in outfielder Ali Mathis.
“I believe we will have continued improvement this year,” said Adkins. “I think we will get better instead of having inconsistent flashes of brightness. We want to add to our improvement from last year.”
In year two under Adkins, the Lady Eagles posted double digit wins for the first time since 2008. While the 2013 team is still youthful, those handful of freshmen that played in 2012 are now a year older, giving Ozarks plenty to build on.
“We are still young, but at least those freshmen last year are now sophomores,” said Adkins. “We will have more experience overall. The bats are more mature this year. We should take that next step and that next level of play.”
The pitching staff returns sophomore Amber Rollins and junior Tabitha McClane, and will receive assistance from a number of capable freshmen.
“The fact that we have Amber back as a sophomore as well as Tabitha back is a plus,” said Adkins. “Victoria Ivy, Whitney Price and Haley McKee give us more depth in the pitching rotation.”
Rollins earned American Southwest Conference East Division Freshman of the Year honors after leading the ASC in strikeouts (172), innings pitched (194.1), appearances (35), games started (26) and complete games (25). She finished the season with a 10-16 record and a 3.31 ERA. There is good competition for the staff’s number two pitcher. Among the candidates are McClane, who threw 50.1 innings and struck out 30 in 2012, and the aforementioned freshmen trio of Ivy, Price and McKee.
“It could be McClane or a number of others,” said Adkins. “Anyone of those three freshmen could emerge. It is the most depth we’ve had in our pitching staff since I’ve been here. But it is a young pitching staff.”
The record-setting Rollins is expected to be among the top pitchers in the conference again.
“Amber is a very driven individual,” said Adkins. “She came back for her sophomore year even better. Her pitches are sharper and more effective. She has added more pitches than last year, too. She has taken another step up.”
The pitchers will receive defensive support from players with experience, sprinkled with several newcomers. Mathis, the team’s only senior, anchors the outfield from her leftfield position. Junior Molly Bowman returns at rightfield, while freshman Miah Williams is expected to start in centerfield.
“I think Ali and Molly anchor the defense,” said Adkins. “Miah is in centerfield. We have three left-handers in the outfield. They cover the whole field. Victoria Lemieux could be in the outfield, too.”
Mathis led the team in hits (38), runs (19) and doubles (7). She ended the season with a .325 batting average, second highest on the team. Going into her senior year, Mathis already ranks among the program’s top-10 in nearly every offensive career category. Bowman made 39 starts and collected 24 hits. She led the team in stolen bases with seven.
“Ali has All-American talent,” said Adkins. “She has come around with her whole game. She makes great contact at the plate and she makes good decisions defensively. I couldn’t ask for a more talented athlete.”
Around the infield, Ozarks must replace its first baseman and shortstop. Both positions will likely be filled by incoming freshmen.
“At shortstop, Victoria Lemieux is leading the charge,” said Adkins. “She is a real smart player. Also, Shawnee Sorensen can play short and Haley is a first baseman. Arel Ferguson can play at second and so can Shawnee. At third, Heather Roberts and Victoria Ivy will split time.”
Ferguson started in 31 games and hit .209. Sorensen played in 30 games. Freshman Sheridan Barajas is a utility player that Adkins will utilize somewhere.
The catching duties will go to sophomore Reagan Littlefield and Roberts. Littlefield hit .279 with one home run and 24 hits in 32 games. Roberts, a junior, posted a .267 average, drove in 11 and homered once.
“Reagan brings power to the plate,” said Adkins. “She will see time behind the plate with Victoria Lemieux, Heather and Shawnee. Heather can get a hold of a ball. She is a strong kid. She has better control of her game. She can provide power to our lineup.”
As the Lady Eagles look to improve from last season’s 11-29 overall record and their 4-20 ASC mark, Adkins believes her club will need to play together as a team in order to make continued improvement.
“We need to play together,” said Adkins. “It has to be a team effort this year. I want winning the big games to become commonplace.”
Ozarks will open the season at the Lyon College Invitational February 22-23.