|Lady Cats softball returns three seniors from last year's playoff team|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Feb. 14, 2006 - They may be wearing the blue and gold, but this year's Sulphur Springs Lady Cats will look different on the softball diamond.
A team dominated the last two years by seniors, SSHS will have just three 12th-graders this year and will depend on a host of sophomores and freshmen.
They even have a new coach, Tommy Grammer, who came over from Pittsburg. But, Grammer will have surgery on his heel on Friday and will miss part of the non-district season.
Despite the medical setback and all the new faces on varsity, Grammer said the Lady Cats are responding to the challenge of getting to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. Last year's team finishes 18-10-2 overall, 8-2 and in second place in District 12-4A.
The Lady Cats' season begins tonight in Denison, with the JV starting at 5 p.m. and the varsity to follow at 7 p.m.
"Our kids are pretty well an even keel. They're all solid players, and that's what you need. I'm moving some kids around and trying to find ways to keep all our kids who can hit in the game," he explained. "If you can hit and help us both ways, then you're more of an asset.
"I don't think anybody feels real safe about their position, a starter of not a starter from last year. They're going to have to play ball, and they know it. We want them to work hard, get better and know they're going to have to produce every week."
Starters back from last year's team are senior shortstop Tara Gibby, a First Team All-District pick who batted .261; junior infielder/outfielder Brittany Moore, who batted .300 and was a Second Team All-District selection; senior catcher Nichole Fender, who hit .282 and was Honorable Mention All-District; junior center fielder Kristen McDonald; and sophomore second baseman Amanda McGowin.
They will be joined by a trio of pitchers, two of whom got their feet wet on varsity last year and the third is a freshman. Junior Tarra Morton and sophomore Marci Womack both had success on varsity last season.
Morton compiled a 3-0 record with a 0.93 ERA in 15 innings. She also batted .333 in six plate appearances. Womack went 1-1 on the mound with a 2.15 ERA in 13 innings, and batted .182 in 11 at-bats.
The third pitcher is freshman Katie Dodd, one of two ninth-graders on the roster. The other is infielder Brittany Crawford.
"We don't have what you would call a proven pitcher at the varsity level, certainly not a starter. But, the way I look at that, it's just another opportunity for a kid to show what she's got," Grammer said. "Fortunately, we've got three pitchers up right now who are doing real well.
"We've got some good pitching coming in the next few years. Once they have some success and get some confidence in the defense, I anticipate they'll be fine."
Grammer likes to move runners around the bases, using bunts and stolen bases to keep runners in scoring position. However, this year's team is not heavy on speed.
"My philosophy in softball is always keep kids in scoring position, whether that's one or two outs. We need somebody at least at second base," Grammer explained. "If you get somebody to second base, even with two outs, they're running on the hit no matter where it is. If it gets to the hole, then you score a run.
"I've tried to put a lot of faith in the kids and their bunting ability. We're working on it a lot - the ability to put down a bunt to get that runner in scoring position. We're working a little bit on slap, drag bunt, things like that, but our team speed may limit us on that."
The Lady Cats had two home runs last year, 40 doubles and seven triples. Moore had six extra base hits including home run, and five other returning players had at least one extra base hit.
"We've got some kids with a lot of power who can hit the ball hard, but the caliber of pitching that we'll be facing may limit our slugging percentage," Grammer said. "We've got four or five kids who can really slap the ball hard, so good things can happen."