WEST POINT — When asked about his team’s record a season ago, Oak Hill Academy softball coach Nathan Ellis just grins and shakes his head.
“I don’t remember how many losses we had,” said Ellis, “but we only had one win.”
The one win and a 1-16 overall record was a result of several factors, including a lack of experience and an injury to star pitcher Maegen Ellis that robbed the senior of the first half of the season. And now, even though Maegen Ellis has graduated, her older brother believes his second year as head coach at Oak Hill will be significantly more successful than his initial season.
“It was tough,” said Ellis. “Every game, it seemed like I was having to tell the girls to keep their heads up. But we gained a lot of experience.”
And that experience will be leaned upon by the Lady Raiders this season, as Oak Hill returns all but two starters from last year. That returning core includes six seniors, a group that Ellis says “Has worked all summer long to get better. We had great response for our summer workouts, then we took a week off, now we’re back out here getting ready for the season.”
The season for Oak Hill will begin on Friday, when the Lady Raiders travel for a 4 p.m. season opener at Starkville Academy.
“We are excited to start off against Starkville,” said Ellis. “Starkville is always a battle for us, and last year, it seemed like every game with them came down to one or two runs.”
For the Lady Raiders, seniors like second baseman Mary Campbell Gray, shortstop Paige Buchanan and third baseman Kelci Jo Langford will be expected to carry the load for a team set on topping last year’s disappointing win total.
“Everybody got a chance to play last year,” said Ellis. “We built a good foundation for this year even though we only won one game. Those three are all players that I expect a lot from this year.
“Last year, we had a lot of eighth graders and ninth graders playing. Maybe that will pay off now.”
While the aforementioned senior trio will anchor the OHA infield, Peyton Tefteller and Tanner Grubbs are expected to split time in the pitcher’s circle to make up for the loss of last year’s ace.
“With her injury, they both had to pitch for us in the first half of last year,” said Ellis. “We feel good about both of them.”
Playing in a district with Leake, Winston, Manchester, Canton and Tri-County, Ellis believes the 2014 version of the Lady Raiders are more prepared to tackle the rigors of a long season than last year’s version.
“We were just so young, so inexperienced,” said Ellis. “Now, we’ve been through it. Nobody likes losing, but we got through it. Now it’s up to us to use our experience to make sure we’re more successful.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat