COVINGTON - With a new coach and only two players gone from last year's team, the Newton softball team is in a good position as it prepares to start the season.
"We have 11 returning of the 13. We only lost an outfield spot, Haleigh Higgins, so everyone else is back. It's easier to fill an outfield spot and we had a surplus of outfielders from last year," first-year Newton coach Virginia Waters said. "I'm really fortunate to be in the position I'm in because I have several girls that can play several different positions. It's actually a good problem to have."
One thing that Waters will do differently is go with two pitchers, which will equally share time in the circle. Last year's primary pitcher, junior Holly Springer, will share pitching duties with Shea McInerny, also a junior.
"I expect to not have a starting pitcher. I plan to have two pitchers that will get equal playing time because I feel they're both worthy of it. They both have several pitches, they both have good movement and they both have good speed. It'll be who I feel is throwing best at the time," Waters said. "Markea (Sheppard) can be our third (pitcher) if we were put in a worst position possible. She's too much of a prize to not be playing in the middle of the infield."
This year's team is made up of six seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and one freshman.
The returning players are: seniors Chaconna Marks, Chermisha Roberts, Sami Becker, Stevie Hodges, Tia Cofield and India Hurst, juniors Becca Brazelton and Sheppard as well as sophomore Zhandria Usher.
New to the team are sophomore Kelsey Swinson and freshman Letice Albert.
What Waters likes most is the way her squad plays defense.
"We have a rock solid defense. If all our girls are playing their 'A' game, I don't see anyone getting anything past them," Walters said. "Our expectations have grown, not only from a coaches view, but I think the girls expect more from each other.'"
At the plate, the Lady Rams will look to utilize their speed and improved bunting.
"We also have a lot of speed at the top of our lineup. We still have Markea and Chermisha. We also have another girl that's playing this year and, even though she's only a sophomore, Kelsey Swinson, she is quick as well. All three can also hit from both sides of the plate as well," Waters said. "We've all improved hitting and bunting. I will have a whole team that will know how to bunt even if I don't ask them to."
While the Lady Rams always have a goal of making it to the state playoffs, this year it is even more important that they make it out of the Region 2-AAAAA playoffs as either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed due to the revamped softball playoffs.
It will be a difficult task considering the other teams in the region, which include Greenbrier, which is ranked as the preseason No. 1 in the PrepCountry.com-GACA Coaches Poll.
"We definitely want a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and, with this group, I think it's possible. You always want to host because you always feel more comfortable on your home field when you have your fans there. I wouldn't want to go to Houston County or wherever," Waters said. "Union Grove and Luella always have a good program. They both changed coaches and they have some girls moving around because of the new schools. But they always have a good team and have competitive programs."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Newton softball
· Coach: Virginia Waters (first year)
· Last year's record: 14-17
· First game: Today at 6:30 p.m. vs. Rutland (Spalding Diamond Classic) at Volunteer Park in Griffin