BALDWYN – Jessica Taylor has started as many as seven freshmen in her Baldwyn Lady Bearcats softball lineup this season.
For the most part, the young players have come through for their coach.
Baldwyn, which hosts Hatley at 6 p.m. today in the opening game of an MHSAA Class 2A state quarterfinals best-of-three series, has posted an impressive 20-8 record.
There have also been days when Taylor’s inexperienced troops have made the expected rookie mistakes. She saw plenty of those in last week’s 16-1 playoff game loss to East Union.
“I don’t know if I’m old enough to talk about that one,” the eighth-year coach said, then laughed. “That was two different teams. We didn’t pitch, hit, play defense. It was just a complete breakdown.”
To their credit, the young Bearcats rallied to win the series, beating East Union 4-3 in the deciding Game 3.
“They’re going to fight,” Taylor said. “Sometimes they play better with their backs against the wall.”
Baldwyn has three seniors in its lineup – catcher Genee Thomas, outfielder Kristy Patterson and third baseman Mireya Dufford. The one junior is outfield Kyley Montgomery who is batting .397 with 15 RBI.
The two starting pitchers are both freshmen – Shelby Blackwell (9-2, 3.48 ERA) and Savannah Alexander (8-6, 3.10 ERA). Alexander also leads the team in hitting with a .412 average, 27 RBI and eight doubles.
Center fielder Sheneria Tyes has been tabbed the “go-to” player by Taylor, even though she’s just a rookie. Tyes has batted .329 with 26 RBI and four home runs.
“She’s a horse for us,” Taylor said.
Hatley enters the series with a 15-10 record after beating Ackerman in three games in the second round.
The Lady Tigers, who played in the state championship series last season, knocked Baldwyn out of the playoffs in the second round last year.
“From what I know, they mainly have the same girls they had last year,” Taylor said. “Their pitcher (Lesley Hudson) does a good job keeping hitters off-balance. You dodn’t know what she’s going to throw. We’re going to have to go up there aggressive.”
The winner of this series will advance to the North state finals against the Mantachie-East Webster series winner. Baldwyn has never reached the North finals in fastpitch.
“We’ve got to play good ball to win,” Taylor said. “I think we can. I’m excited, optimistic.”
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal