However, with Bailey now playing at Georgia Highlands, the Lady Colonels will take a different approach to limiting opponents in 2014 as the team has a strong defense and pitchers who throw strikes.
“We’re going to be alright. We have about four or five girls. None of them throw quite as hard as Courtney did last year, I don’t think, but we’re working on their control and on their spin. There’s a lot of movement on their pitches,” Cass coach Greg Hight said of the team’s pitching. “Defense is going to be there. Our pitching has to be there. We can’t walk people. If we get hitters to put it in play, we’ll be good behind our defense.”
Bailey was named the Region 7A-AAAA Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after recording 162 strikeouts and a 2.43 ERA. She improved as the season progressed and shut out Woodland with an 11-strikeout performance on Sept. 23.
Without her, Cass will employ a pitcher-by-committee system that will include senior Lynnsey Hollifield, juniors Kalie Rush and Caitlyn White, and sophomores Hannah Lee and Hope Elrod.
“It’s tough to replace Courtney in the circle, but these other girls will do fine,” Hight said. “I’d like to have her back. She’s that kid who can get out of a bases-loaded jam with one out and either get a strikeout, or a popout, or a roller back to her. We’re just going to have to rely on our defense.”
Cass will have a strong defense this season, particularly up the middle where senior Lauren Womack will move from shortstop to second base and sophomore Sierrah Gani will take over at short.
“Defensively, we may be as good as we’ve been here in a long time,” Hight said. “Our middle infield is going to be remarkable.”
Sophomore center fielder Hope Elrod and senior catcher Tori Evans also return after seeing some time on the varsity a season ago and round out a strong defense up the middle.
“We’re going to be young, but I think our defense is going to be solid,” Hight said. “If our pitchers throw strikes and put the ball in play, we can make things happen.”
“Young” is not something Hight would have said of the team a year ago when the Lady Colonels had 10 seniors during an 11-22 season. Cass played much better toward the end of the year, finishing one win short of reaching the state playoffs due to a 1-0 loss to Ridgeland in the region tournament.
This season, Cass will have five seniors, but lost three prominent outfielders from a year ago in Camey Kirkland, Brie Heaton and Kiayana Farmer. Cass also lost second baseman Ashlyn Russell, and power hitters Hannah Kirkpatrick and Kelsey Holloway. Also graduated is starting catcher Bre Mahrt.
Still, Hight is confident in his returners and “a lot of these girls had some varsity time last year.”
One of those returners who started last year and will be a key contributor offensively is Hollifield. The third baseman led the team a season ago with a .339 batting average and a .418 on-base percentage.
“Hollifield had a great year. She led us in hitting last year. [Womack] and Savanna [Hutchins] had a great year with the bat last year, too,” Hight said of three seniors.
The team will have a different look offensively this season with five left-handed hitters and three slap-hitters possibly in the starting lineup.
“We’ll have a lot of left-handers. We’re going to try to keep teams on their toes,” Hight said of the team’s offense. “We have some good girls in the middle of the lineup — Hollifield, Hutchins. [Batting first and second] probably will be Elrod, Womack. [Gani] will probably hit in the three hole.”
The team will need to compliment its strong defense with a good lineup as Cass is once again in a strong region. The Lady Colonels were in Class AAAA a season ago in a region with both state finalists, Northwest Whitfield and Heritage, Catoosa. Cass’ subregion this season, 7A-AAAAA, features Creekview, Dalton, River Ridge, Rome, Sequoyah and Woodland.
“You would like to say it can’t get any harder than what we saw last year with Northwest [Whitfield] and Heritage,” Hight said. “River Ridge, Sequoyah and Creekview, those three programs are always good as well as Woodland. Dalton has been good, too, and they had a strong showing in the region tournament last year.”
Still, Hight has high hopes for Cass this season.
“Our goal is to win our subregion and to host the region tournament and to get into hosting the state tournament this year.” he said. “I think, if we play to our capability, we can easily do that. I think everybody lost some key players that’s coming back in our subregion.”