Softball season preview: Parish teams loaded with experience

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Hal Braswell

newsroom@bossierpress.com

 

With the start of softball season fast approaching, most Bossier Parish teams anticipate being in the hunt for a district title and playoff berth.

Defending District 1-5A champion Parkway at once has one of the most experienced group of veterans as well as huge holes to fill from last year’s squad that advanced to the quarterfinals of the LHSAA Fastpitch 56 State Tournament.

Gone from last year’s 21-9 (11-1 district) team are lead pitcher Cheyenne Rogers, All-Parish MVP, and power hitter Danielle Cruickshank.

Behind strong pitching, solid defense and good hitting, the Panthers reached the state tournament for the first time since 2006 and lost to St. Amant in the quarterfinals.

Sophomore southpaw Samantha Guille, who moved to Bossier from Michigan this school year, is expected to be the starting pitcher. Coach Neil May said the newcomer has great velocity with a lot of movement on the ball.

Senior Carol Cash, an All-District third baseman, saw spot action as a right-handed pitcher last season and will also see time on the mound this season.

Russell Hedges/Press-Tribune Parkway players gather around coach Neil May during a time out at Saturday's jamboree in Haughton. The Lady Panthers return the core of the team that won the District 1-5A championship last season.
Russell Hedges/Press-Tribune
Parkway players gather around coach Neil May during a time out at Saturday’s jamboree in Haughton. The Lady Panthers return the core of the team that won the District 1-5A championship last season.

A quartet of All-District players forms the nucleus of the defense and offense. Shortstop Alexis Rayborn (.542, 29 RBI), catcher Haydn Parker (.469, 42 RBI), Cash (.320,14 RBI) and centerfielder Kelsey Gallman (.289,13 RBI) lead a potent offense and veteran defense.

“Defensively we feel like we will be solid,” said Coach Neil May. “We just want to make the routine plays and minimize mistakes. Offensively we feel confident that we can hit through the lineup.

“This team is very hungry to get back to Sulphur this year. We have had an amazing offseason, gaining strength and speed. Seniors Carol Cash, Jordan Hubbard and Tyler Johnson will lead our team this season and take a lot of pride in keeping us on track and team chemistry as a priority.”

Haughton, district runner-up last season, lost in the first round of the playoffs and finished 17-10 overall.

The Lady Buccaneers are being coached this year by Leanne Shanks, who succeeded longtime coach Hal Harlan.

Junior pitcher Anna Dies missed about half of last season due to injury but still posted excellent numbers with a 13-5 record and 118 strikeouts in 108 innings. She also batted .421.

Other top returnees include senior catcher Emily Edwards (.441,5 HR), senior infielder Haley Krumpelbeck (.363, 24 RBI),and senior infielder Brooke Payton (.430, 7 HR).

Airline finished third in district last season and 18-12 overall, defeating Denham Springs on the road to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The Lady Vikings closed out the season with a home playoff loss to St. Amant.

“We have an experienced team with all of our players returning except for one,” said Coach Lynne Roberts. “This team has both speed and power which gives us an advantage when we need to change what we are doing according to the type of opponent we are facing. This group of girls is determined to go farther in the playoffs than they did in the 2013 season. This team has both talent and heart to make it to the state playoffs this season.”

The Lady Vikings will rely on a trio of pitchers: Jamie Roberts, who finished strong last year as a freshman; senior Kayla Ranit; and sophomore Melissa Gillenwater.

“We have a strong defensive team which is experienced and fundamentally sound,” Roberts said. “Katie Smith at shortstop does a great job as does Miranda Young in the catcher position. Carly McIntosh takes command of the outfield as our centerfielder.”

Top hitters from last year include All-Parish players Smith (.430, 24 RBI), infielder Madison Rowland (.278, 20 RBI) and infielder Lindsay Fronzaglio (.277, 18 RBI).

Benton, now coached by interim Michelle Owens, won the District 1-4A championship last season and was 17-10 overall. The Lady Tigers lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Owens is stepping in for Jaymee Junge Echols, who has been battling a serious illness.

Sophomore Gabby Kespelher, the team’s top pitcher last season, had a 10-5 record and 138 strikeouts. She will be joined on the mound by Chelsea Rangel.

Top returning All-Parish batters include Kespheler (.511), senior Brittany Craig (.403) and junior Savannah Collo (.447). Collo plays first base and Craig is the catcher, while Kespheler plays shortstop and pitches.

Bossier, under second-year coach Josh O’Nishea, is trying to build on a good offseason with a veteran squad. O’Nishea took over as coach last year about a week before the season began.

The program has not met with a lot of success recently but O’Nishea believes his squad will be competitive this year and win double-digit games.

Junior April Sainz is the only returning pitcher from last year and will get a lot of work this season. The senior-laden team lost only one starter from last season, at third base, and an outfielder from last season will take over that spot.

Sainz, junior third-baseman Destiny Morris and senior shortstop Angie Nguyen are expected to be the top hitters.

“Our defense is our strength,” O’Nishea said

Seven seniors are on the 18-member roster. He said team members bought in to conditioning and other changes he made, but endurance could still be an issue in late innings.

“We need to get to work early to be a lot better,” O’Nishea said.

Louisiana New Tech at Plain Dealing is in a rebuilding mode this season under new Coach Jennifer Dumas, who served as an assistant coach at Loyola College Prep for four years.

Senior Lexi Jones, the team’s primary pitcher last season, returns on the mound and will be joined by sophomore Kimberly Shaver who transferred from North Webser.

Dumas is looking to senior outfielder Christina Elliot, Jones and senior catcher Shay Stiles for hitting and leadership.

“We lost a lot of experience from last year and have a lot of new players,” Dumas said.