By Melissa Meador
Hamilton is defending a slow-pitch softball crown for the second season in a row, but these Lady Lions are missing five seniors from last season who ended their careers with three state championship rings.
“It’s a whole different group,” said Hamilton softball coach Bryan Loague. “Things haven’t been too bad in practice so far, but it’s getting used to a new group of kids and new talent on the field. For what we have coming back, things are going well, but it’s a long way to go.”
Loague said replacing the five was going to be most difficult on the offensive side of things.
“That’s five really good hitters that we lost, and I don’t know how we’ll replace them on the offensive side of things. Of the five, about four could hit it hard when they wanted to and knew where they wanted to hit it,” Loague said. “But we’ve had some young kids step up and hit a lot better than I thought they would. Hopefully they’ll do the same when the pressure is on in a game.”
The Lady Lions return a handful with playing time from last season and have four seniors.
Senior Addie Thompson moves from second base to shortstop to replace Taylor Hyland.
“You always want your best player at shortstop. For the past three years, we’ve been fortunate enough to have her playing second because she could play at short for anybody,” Loague said. “It’s the best thing for us right now.”
Junior Hope Manasco moves from catcher to take over in the circle for Alison Atkins.
Hailee Jones returns at first base, and sophomore Lacey Holley will catch and could alternate both positions with Jones.
Hamilton returns an experienced outfield with seniors Hallie Dobbs, Camryn Savage and Kaley Loague and junior Myiah Dobbs.
Freshman Taylor Brock could play a variety of positions after having a strong fast-pitch season in the spring.
“She’ll be somewhere in the lineup. She played center in fast-pitch last year, so we could stick her out there or put her at second or third,” Loague said.
Loague mentioned Hannah Rooks, Lexy Cockerham and Icie Cockerham as being in the mix in the infield. Sophomore Carley Reeves is out after having surgery on her hand but could be back before the end of the season.
Loague said he thinks so far that leadership has been strong for the Lady Lions in the first week of practice.
“Addie (Thompson) and Hailee (Jones) have both shown a lot of leadership so far,” he said. “They’re really stepping up and filling those roles.”
The Lady Lions open the season with their own classic on Saturday, which will include Nettleton and Caledonia and face a handful of teams – Amory, East Union and Mooreville – which also made the North half championship or better. Hamilton opens its Division 4-1A slate with Houlka but eyes a Sept. 9 division matchup with Smithville, who they beat in the North state championship last season.
“Our schedule is tough as always. We open with Nettleton and play them, Mooreville, Amory and Hatley all twice, plus Smithville twice in the division,” Loague said. “It’s still early to talk about state, but I think if we can stay together, we’ll be competitive.”
By Melissa Meador