The Adairsville softball team had just one senior on its 2019 roster, meaning a significant portion of the squad is back this fall with one more year (or one year total) of varsity experience.
Then again, there are an equal number of seniors and freshmen (four each) on the 15-player roster this season, so the Tigers are a more veteran group but with a few key newcomers still expected to play significant roles.
Some of those less experienced players had the chance to hopefully get some of the first-game jitters out of the way Tuesday, when Adairsville scrimmaged Pepperell. Head coach Amanda Nelson predictably saw steady performances from her upperclassmen but was admittedly, pleasantly surprised with the performances of her younger players.
“We were all excited to get out there and play, because we haven’t been able to scrimmage this summer,” Nelson said. “Getting to play was fun. I was happy to see how the game played out for us. I felt like I saw some really good things, some girls who stepped up and maybe gave us more than we anticipated for a first game. That’s always fun to see early in the season.”
The aforementioned lone senior from last year, Alexa Varner — who signed to play collegiately at Shorter — served as the leadoff hitter and shortstop for the Tigers. Ironically, two of the freshmen will be expected to help replace her production.
“It’s taken a few people to fill those shoes, but they’re doing it well,” Nelson said. “We put freshman Alissa Winters at leadoff, and she’s also playing center field for us. She is a competitor. She is going to find a way to put the ball in play, to get on base. She’s extremely smart in her strategic approach to the game, which is incredible to see from a freshman. … Her goal is to get to first base, and she’s figuring out how to make it happen.
“At the shortstop position, we currently have freshman Gabi Beccera. She has great hands, great transfers. She’s so good at just being smooth with the ball, with the plays, from receiving it to throwing it. She’s got a cannon. … She’s going to do great.”
Another freshman, Chelsea Bates looks set to be the team’s third option in the circle. That being said, Nelson has two extremely gifted senior pitchers — Victoria O’Neal and Taylor Rhoades — who could limit the number of innings Bates sees, assuming they perform well.
“This is their fourth year playing varsity, so they have plenty of experience,” Nelson said of O’Neal and Rhoades. “They handle themselves so well on the mound, at first base or left field, wherever we’re asking them to play. … They love getting out there to play, whether they’re on the mound or not. They will, I anticipate, see the majority of the innings between the two of them, getting out there and being steady for us on the mound.
“Behind them, we have a freshman, Chelsea Bates. She actually pitched three innings against Pepperell. She did really good. That was her first varsity outing. … She carried herself very well for her first night out.”
As promising as some of the freshmen look, it’s expected that the senior group of O’Neal, Rhoades, Sadye Johnson and Chloe Souders will carry the Tigers this season. Filling out the rest of the lineup, Nelson believes, will be a huge X-factor.
“Feeling like we’ve got those pieces on defense coming together, we have focused on hitting,” Nelson said of her team’s focus. “Our seniors, they’ve got the experience, but [the goal is] getting the rest of our girls confident, competitive at-bats.”
It will take a lineup that can hit top to bottom, plus superb seasons from their pitchers, for the Tigers to have a chance to qualify for the Class 3A state playoffs.
Adairsville is unlucky to be situated in one of the toughest regions in Georgia, regardless of classification. Even with perennial state-title contender Calhoun moving up to 5A — where the Yellow Jackets will be in the same region as Cartersville, Cass and Woodland — Region 6-AAA added powerhouses LaFayette and Rockmart to create an even more loaded nine-team league.
“A lot of respect to our region,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of great players and great coaches in our region, but we also have a lot of great players and great coaches. I’m excited to see the girls compete this season.”
Mainly, Nelson wants to see her girls compete against their own standard, refusing to play down to an opponent or entering a game with any doubt that they can win. If they do that, Nelson will be pleased.
Although, to be fair, at this stage, she’s just happy to be able to have a season at all.
“I’m very grateful to be coaching this season,” Nelson said. “I never knew from day to day, week to week whether we would even get to have a season. At this point, we've had our official scrimmage, and we have our first official game [Thursday]. It’s real. It’s here. It’s exciting. …
“Our girls, our players are an absolutely incredible bunch. Our parents are raising some of Adairsville’s finest, right now. I’m lucky enough to have them out there and be able to coach them. They make me a better coach and a better person, just having them out there.”