- Last Updated on 12:22 PM 04/23/12
- BY Doug Ford
With only one starter and six returnees among a 15-man roster, one might assume the Halifax County Middle School softball team is in a rebuilding mode, but don’t assume anything too quickly, cautioned Lions head coach James Smith, who has already seen signs of a solid team in the making. Six players, all eighth-graders return for the Lions, including Megan Puckett, Samantha Moser, Peyton Myers, Hannah Saunders, Taylor Strange and Beth Thomas.
Newcomers include eighth-graders Lauren Albertson and Jasmine Lovelace, seventh-graders Lauren Womack, Tara Brandon and Ashley Watts, and sixth-graders Taylor Barnes, Kirsten Doss and Cecilie Elliott.
Although Puckett is the only returning starter, the rest of the returnees saw a great deal of playing time last year for the Lions in a 13-0 campaign that saw them wrest the conference tournament championship from Powhatan.
That broke a two-season tournament championship win streak by the Lady Indians, and Smith sees momentum from that triumph carrying over into this year.
“We lost a lot of players, but we’ve got six coming back and they got some experience in last year’s title run, especially on the road,” Smith pointed out.
“My eighth-graders will serve as team captains, and I’m looking for those six players to lead us this year.”
If not experienced, the Lions are talented this season, according to Smith.
“I only have one starter back, Megan Puckett, our starting center fielder, but we have some good younger players.
“I’m hoping after one or two games I’ll know where we stand, but this is probably the youngest team I’ve had since I’ve been here.
“Usually, I have about eight or nine returning but I’ve seen some pretty good things out of this group.”
Smith noted he has already been pleasantly surprised at what he’s seen at practice.
“We have a little speed, our defense looks solid and I have some good pitching, so I’m expecting a lot out of this group.
“Defense has surprised me. I lost the entire starting infield, but I like the girls who have replaced them and we might even be a little better defensively than last year.”
Smith sees this edition of the Lions as not quite as potent with the long ball as some prior teams, and that might change the way he approaches the game.
“Our weakness is probably hitting, because we don’t have as much power,” he said.
“I had so many older girls last year compared to this year, so we’ll probably do a little more bunting and stealing bases than we have.
“We just don’t have the pop in the bats we’ve had in past years, and we have to pick our spots.”
Tomorrow’s HCMS Invitational Softball Tournament and its round robin format affords the opportunity for Smith and assistants Bonnie Bowen and Reagan Cannon to see the team in a live-game situation for the first time.
Smith still may not know exactly what type of team he has until the end of that tourney and after a few more games, but he sounded a note of optimism.
“We need to move some players around because four of our starters will be in New York for a school-related activity this week and won’t be back until late in the week,” explained Smith.
“It’ll give me a good opportunity to see what we’ve got this season.
“I think if we improve during the year we have a good chance of winning this thing. Pitching and defense look good, we just have to swing the bat a little bit.
“We look good in practice but as you know practice and games are different, but after this weekend I’ll have a good idea of what we can do.”