By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
North Laurel’s goal for this season began when last season ended. North Laurel lost two games in the Rawlings/ KHSAA Softball State Tournament by one run. The final one was a heartbreaking extra inning loss that it looked like they had rallied to win.
“Especially the six seniors were heartbroken last year in our last game. They were so close, yet so far away. They still kind of have that feeling in them of losing that last game,” North Laurel coach Becky Osborne said.
The only player the Lady Jaguars had to replace is power hitting first baseman Kristen Fields.
“She was the perfect leader,” Osborne said.
But there should be plenty of leaders this season with six experienced seniors.
Farris Strong will move from the outfield to the infield to fill Fields’ role at first base.
“She’s the best utility player that I’ve seen in a long time. She seems very comfortable there,” Osborne said.
The rest of the infield is experienced and very talented. Senior Sidney Herrell returns at shortstop where she is capable of filling a highlight reel with plays. She also sparks the offense from the leadoff position.
“Sidney Herrell’s speed is ungodly and she’s probably the best base runner in the state. She is so smart at running the bases,” Osborne said.
Third base belongs to another senior in Emily Sears, who is getting high praise from her coach.
“Emily Sears in my eyes is the best third baseman in the state,” Osborne said.
The youngster in the infield is second baseman Kailin Yantz, who started last season as an eighth grader.
“In my opinion she will be the best second baseman in the state and will be a Miss Softball Candidate. Her swing is so quick,” Osborne said.
Senior catcher Blake Johnson gives the Lady Jaguars a ton of experience behind the plate. And according to Osborne is throwing the ball better with a stronger arm.
Moving Strong to the infield will open a spot in the outfield for McKenzie Mills, who saw a lot of playing time last year as an eighth grader.
“It’s not going to be that big of a transition for her. She’s lightning fast and she’s got good instincts,” Osborne said.
Vanessa Smith returns in centerfield with Mikayla Vires in right. Smith had some spectacular plays of her own last season. She will also be counted on to fill in some of the run production lost with Fields’ graduation. Vires showed she belonged in the starting lineup last year in her first varsity season.
“We just threw her out there as an eighth grader and she did great too,” Osborne said.
A team can only go as far as it’s pitching and the Lady Jaguars are solid there as well with Megan Baldwin and Vires.
“Megan Baldwin has killed herself this winter getting better. Her speed has increased. Her change up is looking extremely good. I think her key is going to be that off-speed pitch,” Osborne said.
Vires has also increased her speed and will be a crucial part of the Lady Jaguars’ post season push.
“To win the state tournament, we know you have to have more than one good, solid pitcher,” Osborne said. “That was our main goal as soon as we lost last year.”