MSHSAA announced on Monday, Mar. 16 that they would not be cancelling spring sports due to the Coronavirus. There will be delays to the start of the season and you can read the full MSHSAA release on spring sports by clicking here. Many area schools have called off classes and extracurricular activities through at least Apr. 3 and will reassess at that time. We will continue to post our spring previews. Please note that this preview was written before delays for the spring season were announced.
By Chris Parker
Sparta softball is looking to keep moving in a positive direction. Last year, the Lady Trojans finished 9-9 overall which was an improvement from the previous two seasons where Sparta finished 5-8 and 6-10.
They will look to build on last year and make big strides this season.
“This year, our team looks to capitalize on all of the groundwork that has been laid over the past few seasons. We have worked very hard to develop a team that plays the game the right way and focuses on doing all the little things right. This hard work has paid off as we have steadily improved each year,” Sparta head coach Troy McPherson said. “Those improvements carry over to this year, as does an influx of new talent. With this influx of talent and the improved foundation of this program, all of the tools to be a successful softball team are in our hands. This team has all the talent to carry them as far as their minds will allow them to go. This team has to have a champion’s mindset and a competitive edge that we have not had in years past. Our talent will take us a long way, but to achieve our goals we have to have the competitive nature and intestinal fortitude to do so.”
Six starters return from last year’s club with only three seniors graduating from last year’s club. One of that group was a first-team all-district and all-conference catcher Kassidy Watts.
“While attempting to replace her (Watts’) production will be a task in-and-of itself, the example that she set and led this team with will be what is missed the most. She was one of the most humble and hardest working players that I have had the pleasure to be around. With the need for new leadership and an influx of youth and talent, we will look to develop a new team chemistry that will allow us to compete in every game this season,” McPherson said.
One of those leaders McPherson can look to is senior Maggie Brown. She was named first-team all-conference as an infielder last year. At the plate, Brown hi .463 with a .547 on-base percentage. She drove in a team-high 28 runs and scored another 17 runs. Brown will split time between catcher and third base this year.
“Maggie has been such a tremendous asset for us because of the way that she sees the game. Maggie has a natural gift for the game, primarily as a hitter, but her success comes because she sees the game as few do. Maggie has an extremely natural swing and has an innate ability to read a pitcher. She has extremely quick hands that allows her to hit even the hardest of throwers that we will face this season. Her travel ball experience has given her a tremendous advantage and she uses it well. All of this experience allows her to make the adjustments that she needs to make against even the toughest of competition, which is in part the reason she is the level of player that she is,” McPherson said. “Maggie is a special case for me because she’s one of just two girls on this team who were on the team as freshmen during my first season with the program. Working with Maggie from her freshman year to her senior year has allowed me to see first-hand just how much she has grown as a softball player and as a young woman. Maggie is a long way away from being the quiet little freshman girl that was just looking to play her part. Maggie has always led with her play, but she has become more and more vocal with each year that has passed and looks for that to peak this season. In our off-season workouts and our first practices, Maggie has become extremely vocal and helpful as a leader. The game has seemingly slowed down for her and she has developed a knack for seeing the play as a whole and communicating that with the whole team. She has already done so much for this team as a leader and looks to do more of the same this season.”
Senior Alyssa Diers returns after being the No. 1 pitcher for Sparta last year. She will primarily shift back to her more natural position at shortstop this year, but will still see time in the circle. She earned first-team all-district and second-team all-conference honors last season. She posted a 9-8 record over 93.1 innings as a pitcher. At the plate, Diers hit .527 with a .578 on-base percentage to go with 34 RBI.
The primary pitching duties will be handled by freshman Natalie Wilks this season.
“The immense amount of varsity experience that she (Wilks) gained this basketball season has helped her to prepare for the role that we anticipate her to play for us this season. She possesses all of the tools and talent to be one of the top pitchers and players in our conference, district, and area for years to come,” McPherson said.
Freshman Megan Brown and sophomore transfer Baylee Williams will join Maggie Brown and Diers on the infield. Megan will see time at catcher in addition to other infield positions. Williams, who transferred in from Ozark, will primarily play first base.
The outfield will be anchored by sophomore Aysha Fulton in center. She earned all-conference honorable mention honors as a freshman.
Seniors Kacey Pearman (second base) and Sierra Schneider (outfield) will look to step up with vocal leadership.
“As a team, our depth and athleticism look to be our strongest areas. We now have five or six girls that are capable of batting in the top of the order and having a great deal of success. Paired with the level of pitching that we anticipate, our offensive depth will keep us competitive in all aspects of the game,” McPherson said. “The area that we intend to work on the most this season will be in developing a winning mindset and a level of competitiveness that we have not yet achieved. The talent that this team possesses will allow us to have a tremendous amount of success, but talent can only take us so far. I look for this team to become more aggressive and competitive in all aspects of the game. We have preached this off-season that becoming a championship caliber team is all about the mindset. Our desire to win, our willingness to out-work our competitors, and developing our team confidence will allow this program to take the next step towards our goals.”
McPherson and the Sparta program have been building for several years, and expectations are high with all of the experienced players and young talent on the team this year.
“Our hopes and expectations for this season are as high as they have ever been. The level of talent on this team is one that Sparta Softball has not seen in the recent past. We have spent the past several seasons building the foundation for this program and now is the time to expand upon that foundation. Our goal is no longer to just win several games, but rather to compete for conference and district championships. These expectations may seem ambitious, but they are in line with the capabilities of this team. The sky is the limit for Sparta Softball and we cannot wait for the future of this program,” McPherson said.
Sparta opens the season on Mar. 23 at Seymour.