By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Despite losing 3/4 of his infield to graduation, South Laurel coach James Burns likes this year’s version of the Lady Cardinals’ softball team.
“On paper, I think we have a very good team,” Burns said. “We have the potential to beat anyone in the state. It all depends on how hard our girls work and if they can mesh into a team. Right now, I don’t think we are there. We are talented individuals, still thinking about themselves without a lot of focus. If they all come together and start thinking as a team and what they can do to make the team better, we could really have a great season.”
Gone from last year’s team that finished 25-13, won the 50th District title and finished runner-up in the 13th Region are first baseman Hailey Burns, secondbaseman Casie Finley, and shortstop Destinee Fisher. Burns knows it will be hard to replace those three players.
“We were very strong up the middle last year and it spoiled me,” Burns said. “We have Cassandra Johnson at shortstop, who has some varsity experience at that position. We have an all out battle for the second base position. We are going to give several girls a look there and hopefully someone will step up and take it.” He said he has moved Bailey Miller from the outfield to first base, while Madyson Morris, Destiney Salva and possibly Laura Williams will get some playing time at second. Brittany Vandeventer returns at third base, and Morris may get some time at short with Johnson.
Burns feels like one of his team’s strengths will be the experienced players he has coming back.
“Hagan Burns and Amber Hyde were named KSCA Class 3A All-State honorable mention last year,” Burns said. “Chelsea Wemes, Cassandra Johnson, Laura Williams and Bailey Miller have also been mentioned by various media sources as top players in the 13th Region.”
He also has a strong pitching staff returning.
“We return all of our pitchers from last season,” Burns said. “Hagan Burns was very strong, going 14-5 with an ERA of 0.89. She also recorded 114 strikeouts in 130 innings pitched. Megan Smith also had a very good season. She won 11 games, struck out 90 batters in 114 innings. We have three catchers that could start for just about any team in the state. (Amber) Hyde, (Chelsea) Wemes and Nell Murray will all get varsity work behind the plate.”
Wemes and Hyde will also rotate between catcher and centerfield this season.
“This will keep both girls fresh behind the plate,” Burns said. “Laura Williams returns to right field, and our left field position is still a work in progress. We have several very good players that could see some tie there, including Murray, Makenzie Powenski and Tiffanie Gregory.”
As far as hitting is concerned, Burns feels like that will be another strong point for his team.
“We have a lot of power,” Burns said. “Six or seven different girls can hit it very hard. We should hit several home runs. We also have some speed to mix in. I believe we are built to score a lot of runs.” His added his team is faster than it was last year.
“The top and bottom of our line-up can run,” Burns said. “Johnson, Hyde, Wemes and Vandeventer are very fast. We also have some younger girls that can run for our pitchers and put some pressure on the other team.”
Burns has been impressed with three freshmen so far during practice.
“Haley Shelby, Kaylee Norvell and Kaylyn Perkins have looked good in practice,” Burns said. “They will be a big part of our program in the future.”
This season, James Finley returns as an assistant and head junior varsity coach, while Kenneth Fisher joins the staff.
“Kenneth brings a lot of experience and is very knowledgeable,” Burns said. “The three of us have coached together for several years through Little League, middle school and traveling teams.”
Burns feels like the 50th District will be pretty strong this year.
“Corbin, Whitley County and Williamsburg have good teams,” Burns said. “Corbin is probably the most experienced. We have lost at Whitley each of the last two seasons. Williamsburg had a very young pitching staff last year and I’m sure they will be better.”
As far as the region goes, he feels like North Laurel will be the team to beat.
“The region goes through North Laurel,” Burns said. “They are the returning champion from last year winning 30 plus games and only graduated one. I believe we will contend. Corbin, Bell County, Whitley County and Middlesboro also look strong.”
The Lady Cards will also be looking for a milestone this season, as they are only 10 wins away from 500.
“That’s a pretty big deal,” Burns said. “I think there are only five schools in the state that has reached it. We hope to use that to propel us to the state tournament. I look forward to the season and believe if we can come together as a team and play for each other, not ourselves, we can have a special season.” North Laurel is the all-time leader in wins with 585. Christian County, Owensboro Catholic, Reidland and Greenwood all have over 500 wins. Besides South Laurel, Allen-County Scottsville (497) and George Rogers Clark (491) should join that exclusive club this season. Lafayette is next with 466 wins.
The Lady Cards are scheduled to open the season Monday at Williamsburg.