Bulldogs reload, alter plan of attack
There is no panic in the McLouth High softball dugout.
Outsiders might think it’s time for the Bulldogs, a Class 3A powerhouse the past few seasons, to come down a notch or two.
That doesn’t seem like an absurd line of thinking given the fact MHS will be without two first-team all-state selections — graduates Kendall Patterson and Lezley Lawson.
But McLouth’s players and coach aren’t worried about who won’t be in the team’s lineup. The beauty of having a successful program is that young players can learn from top-notch upperclassmen and eventually become their capable replacements.
That’s what Bulldogs coach Ballard Patterson envisions happening this year, especially when he sees 2009 second-team all-state players Missy Rome and Kaley Patterson on his roster.
Rome is the team’s only senior, but the junior class of Patterson, Jessie Troupe and Kaitlyn Sparks has loads of experience and talent.
Patterson is ready to step into Lawson’s role as McLouth’s No. 1 pitcher, and she said the team’s sophomores and freshmen will help the program maintain its high level of success, which included a 16-4 record in 2009 and a third-place finish at state in 2008.
“We lost a lot of really good players but we’ve just got new people that can play softball,” the junior pitcher said.
MHS will have five underclassmen in its opening day lineup: sophomores Emily Welsh (first base), Morgan Drinnon (second base), Kelsey Campbell (left field) and Kelsey Mills (right field), as well as freshman Marissa Raya (third base).
“We are really young,” said MHS coach Ballard Patterson.
But that doesn’t mean his team will be ineffective.
“I think we’re gonna surprise people,” he said. “I think people think we’re gonna be down, and I’m cool with that.”
With a challenging 2010 schedule ahead, the days of the Bulldogs blowing opponents out might be over. Coach Patterson said this team won’t be slugging its way to 10-run victories.
“I’ve got a lot of gazelles and a couple big bats,” he said. “Before we had nothing but a bunch of kids who were trying to hit the ball over the fence and this team is built on speed, a lot more than any team I’ve had in the past.”
Rome and Kaley Patterson will provide some punch, and Troupe will do some slugging, but the top of the lineup is faster than it has been lately thanks to Drinnon and Welsh.
Their speed, Rome contends, will help out defensively as well.
“I think that’s gonna be a key factor, our speed on the infield,” the shortstop said, noting the Bulldogs are faster up the middle than they have been in a couple years.
Her coach agreed.
“Outside of the circle, those four kids right there (Raya, Rome, Drinnon and Welsh), you could run a relay with in track,” Patterson said.
A speedy third baseman, Raya likely won’t be the only freshman contributing. Taylor Pope can fill in for Troupe at catcher when the junior moves to pitcher and Patterson said he could plug Alex Adams in just about anywhere on the field.
Troupe has been impressed with the newbies.
“The freshmen are stepping up,” she said. “They’re not being scared.”
Sparks said the freshmen can hit and field. The junior center fielder remembers what it was like to be in their position. She was glad she had some of the best players in the state to guide her — it’s the power of the McLouth program’s success.
“I think it’s helped me a lot because I got taught since I was a freshman by the seniors, and they know what they’re talking about,” she said.
Now she can help pass along that winning attitude and keep the program humming along.
McLouth opens its season at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Atchison.