CONYERS - It will be difficult for the Heritage softball squad to equal or exceed what it did this season come next year.
The Lady Patriots went 23-10-1 overall, advancing to the Class AAAA North Sectional before losing to Alexander.
"I was very satisfied with our year," Heritage coach Dickey Hightower said. "Of course, everyone would like to win a few more games and finish higher at the end, but overall I think we had a good year."
What Heritage will not have in 2009 are eight seniors - Kat Baize, Katie Cuson, Jessica Hornsby, Jamie Melson, Jaclyn Queen, Whitney Phillips, Ashley Ward and Sydonie Wiggins - who raised the bar for the Lady Patriots.
In fact, they accounted for 53 wins during their time at Heritage.
"There is no way we are going to replace our seniors this year," Hightower said. "They have been playing together for quite a while and they have been the backbone of our teams for the three years I have been here. We are going to miss them but we will be alright with the players we have coming back."
Hightower said his seniors brought unparalleled experience and leadership to this year's squad.
"We are going to have to develop a few more players over the spring and summer who will step in and play," Hightower noted. "They are capable, but it is going to depend on how hard they are willing to work in the offseason as to how much they can help. We need to work on all phases of the game, but particularly our hitting, as we will lose a good bit of that."
Melson accounted for the majority of the offense this season. Not only did she lead the team in batting (.380), but she was just as effective in the circle. She led the team in wins (18), including a 0.70 earned run average and more than 100 strikeouts.
But Heritage has plenty of talent returning, starting with catcher Callie Alford who is "as any good of catcher I've seen play," according to Hightower.
Amanda Voyles, who played outfield this season, will likely return to her natural position next year at third base. And pitcher Nikki Walden should pick up where Melson did in the circle.
"Chandler Shepherd and Rachelle Stover have to step up and fill some of the holes," Hightower noted.
Heritage returns five players with varsity experience.
"This team I believe lived up to the expectations and worked hard to achieve what they did," he said. "We should be OK next year, but experience at the varsity level is going to be lacking.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.