Even though a number of top local softball players from last season moved on to Division I colleges, a large contingent of potential stars will start displaying their wares today when the 2013 softball season launches, weather permitting.
Defending District 1-4A champ, Northwood, which advanced to the 2012 state tournament in Sulphur, returns the bulk of the lineup that helped 2012 Times Coach of the Year Greg Swearengin go 10-0 in the league and 19-8 overall.
“We have most of our infield returning, including our pitcher (Kendall Smith) and catcher (Kaitlyn Williams),” Swearengin said. “We also have six or seven players vying for playing time in the outfield.”
Both Smith (133 Ks, 1.12 ERA) and Williams (.431 avg.) make the Lady Falcons the favorite to make a return trip south.
“Things will be tough because Benton is strong, but I have a good feeling about our kids,” Swearengin said. “If we get a few breaks and can avoid injuries, we could go a long way. Our kids are really motivated after making it to Sulphur last season.”
Brittany Craig and Taylor Thompson, who led the Lady Tigers into the 2012 playoffs, will make Benton a contender.
Defending 1-5A champ Haughton lost Times Hitter of the Year Shyanne McDowell to Louisiana-Lafayette, but returns sluggers Carissa Herndon (.393, 5 HRs) and Lani Woods, along with All-City pitcher Annie Dies (17-6, 2.21 ERA). The Lady Bucs appeared destined for Sulphur during a 12-0 district run, but lost at home in the opening round of the 5A playoffs last spring.
Haughton will have to contend with a talented Byrd squad, featuring Tia Timerding (.410), along with
Emily Trice and Sarah Long on the mound. Airline, behind Lady Techsters commit Katie Smith (.389), and Parkway, with LSU-Eunice signee Danielle Cruickshank (.465), will also be in the hunt. And Southwood or Captain Shreve, which have quality coaching, cannot be overlooked.
North DeSoto has one of the youngest teams in the area, which could give the defending District 1-3A champs a difficult time repeating. Coach Lori McFerren has 19 players out for softball, but 14 are freshmen or sophomores. If senior Katelynn Chandler can return from an illness and Harlee Compton continues to improve as a hitter, the Lady Griffins might be able to get past a veteran Loyola team. Juniors Meagan Tinsley and Alex Cunningham make the Flyers the favorites in the three-team district.
“Can we compete with Loyola? Yes,” McFerren said. “But I respect them a great deal and it was a real dogfight last year. It’s always a classic when we play Loyola.”
The Evangel Lady Eagles lost Times Player of the Year Lindsey Neyland (.433) to Central Florida and All-City infielder Jenna Kreamer (.358) to Washington, but return Times Pitcher of the Year McKenzie Ashby (0.72, 78 Ks) and Carolina Sanchez (0.72 ERA, 80 Ks) who could have tied her for the honor. Also in the Lady Eagles (25-5, 8-0) arsenal is catcher Baylee Shephard, a Northwestern State signee. Evangel lost a heartbreaker in the 2A state championship game last season.
Calvary returns the bulk of an 18-8 state playoff team and could give the Lady Eagles trouble with Paige Gibson and Christy Fontenot in the lineup. North Caddo should be improved with Louisiana College signee Jordan Mason, Lady Techsters commit Cassie Harris and speedster Ledetriha Shepphard leading coach Lory Kowaleski’s club. North Webster will also make District 1-2A salty with Times All-Area Pitcher of the Year Amberlee Nix (136 Ks) leading the way.