Cass Tapley hopes experience equals urgency this season.
A year ago, the Hebron Christian fast-pitch softball coach could only scratch his head and wonder about his team.
The Lady Eagles sputtered through the first part of the season and seldom resembled the team Tapley knew it could be.
But something clicked along the way that helped Hebron Christian regain its footing to close the season on a run. After losing only one of its final 10 or 11 regular-season games, the Lady Eagles finished second in their district and advanced to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A North State tournament.
This season, Tapley hopes a group of seven seniors will help Hebron Christian look like the team that finished the 2009 campaign. If the senior leaders do their part, Tapley believes big things could happen.
“If they are not in the state championship I think they”re going to be disappointed,” Tapley said of his seniors. “Hopefully all seven (seniors) are going to be starting and a couple of young ones are going to be pushing them.”
Hebron Christian will see how prepared it is at 3 p.m. today when it plays host to Starkville Academy in its season opener. The Lady Eagles then will play Saturday in the Winona Academy tournament.
Six-year starters Cathryn Moore (third base/catcher) and Magen Tapley (pitcher/first base) lead a group of seniors that includes Hillary Arnold (shortstop), a four-year starter, and East Webster High School transfer Jessica Fleming, who returns to the school after two years away.
Seniors Dakota Hillhouse, Brittany Ousley, and Prysilla Skelton also will work to set the tone.
Juniors Beverly Blake (second base/outfield) and Tori Nichols (infield/outfield) and sophomore Chloe Tapley also will provide leadership.
Chloe Tapley will do most of her damage from the circle. She has earned All-District honors and has been named team MVP the past two seasons. The honors aren”t surprising given Tapley had the team”s highest batting average in both seasons and has struck out 431 in the past three years.
But even Tapley had her ups and downs last season. Coach Tapley said the Lady Eagles might have grown complacent after a strong summer. He said the team regained its focus and regrouped to beat teams it had lost to early in the season by the mercy rule at the end.
Coach Tapley hopes his players adopt and maintain a similar focus this season. He feels the team has the potential to do it because the seniors provide a sense of urgency.
“I would be very surprised if they don”t come out of the gate playing well,” Tapley said.
Tapley also feels the team will be better rested and ready for a schedule that features the most games it has played in a season. He said the Lady Eagles didn”t play as many games this summer as they did the previous year, which should have everyone raring to go.
With 21 players available, Tapley will have plenty of options if he doesn”t see the intensity he wants. He hopes the team learned its lesson from last season and used the time off in the summer wisely. So far, he said the Lady Eagles have looked good in practice, and he is optimistic about their fortunes.
“We have seven seniors and a lot of leadership, so let”s see,” Tapley said. “We lost one player (Taylor Lancaster), but we gained two (Hillhouse and Fleming), and that is going to help us. I think the leadership is spread out between all seven seniors, and that they all will take their turn at it.
“If things start going well they should be consistent. The lows are low, but maybe we won”t have any.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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