So what’s a team to do after a third-place finish in last year’s state tournament and losing ten seniors?
For the Jones County Lady Greyhounds, it’s quite simple. Reload and look for new faces to step up and continue to set a high standard of play that has resulted in two Elite 8 appearances in the past three seasons.
“They know the expectations coming in,” Lady Greyhounds head coach Tripp Burt said. “We’re not just looking to make the playoffs. We’re looking to make a deep run with championship-caliber play. They know coming in, even from middle school, what the expectations are.”
JCHS enters the season with a new head coach as Burt replaces the retiring Blake Lyons. There should be a minimal adjustment. Burt has been with the program for nine years as an assistant.
He’ll inherit a group with a senior class that’s more quality than quantity with just three of them on the roster. Each of them is expected to play major roles. Maggie Glover moves to play more extensively at shortstop. Molly Keenum is back behind the plate after hitting .412 last year, and Kenzie Forrester is one of two returning starting pitchers from the Lady Greyhounds top three last year after Savannah Williams (12-2, 1.87 ERA) graduated. Forrester, 10-4 with a 2.21 ERA with 87 strikeouts, will be looked upon to lead from the pitching circle along with Destin Howard (4-6, 3.71 with 78 strikeouts).
“We’ll definitely be looking for big things from our junior class,” Burt said. “We had three seniors on our infield last year, and they were our one, two and four hitters in our lineup. That’s hard to replace.”
All told, the Lady Greyhounds lose three of the first four hitters in last year’s batting order. Not only that, but four of their top five in RBIs – Madison Bennett, Mackenzie Kilpatrick, Kloey Goins and Makinsey Long – are lost to graduation.
In addition to Howard and Keenum’s presence at the plate, Burt points to Stephanie Youngblood, an all-region selection as a freshman, as one primed for a big season as a junior. She’s part of a dozen juniors that’ll carry a much heavier load this year, especially given JCHS having only three seniors. Megan Hamilton is penciled in to play more extensively at first base, according to Burt.
Bennett and Youngblood combined for a total of 36 stolen bases a year ago. With Bennett having departed, there’s less speed on the basepaths. Burt expects the Lady Greyhounds to use their power-hitting to their advantage rather than leaning as much toward speed on the basepaths as during recent years.
“As a team, we feel like we do a really good job pitching and we can hit it a little bit. We probably have more power, top to bottom, and can drive it more than we have the last few years and not quite as speedy,” Burt said. “You have to play based on the personnel you have. Three years ago, we had something like 140 stolen bases. This year, I don’t think we will have that many.”