The goal is simple for the 2020 Parklane softball program. Just do what they’ve done over the past two years which is win state championships.
However, unlike last year the deck is stacked against the Pioneers a bit more this season as they are tasked with replacing seven key seniors.
Yet the levels of optimism and excitement are through the roof for the young squad per head coach Greg Gatlin.
“We are very excited each and every year when we get to start off and start something new,” he said. “It brings a challenge and losing seven seniors who were heavy contributors is certainly a challenge. But so far in camp the girls have responded.”
And Gatlin attributes this to programs and workouts during the summer.
“Many of them play travel ball and they get reps and they get quality instruction, so when we get here, we are ready to go and we don’t have to spend a lot of time on fundamentals,” he said. “We are excited about all of the girls returning from last years’ team. They understand the process.”
Three of those girls have recently been named captains — juniors Meg Gatlin and Lana Johnson and sophomore Liberty Gillihan.
“Our three team captains are doing a fantastic job of leading by example and the other girls are following suit and we have had a really good camp so far,” Coach Gatlin said.
However, while the majority of the leadership has come via example, Meg Gatlin adds that it is also vital for the team to communicate frequently as well. She will also constantly remind the girls of their motto this year.
“Our team motto this year is ‘no excuses’,” she said. “There are no excuses for us not to win a third state championship and I feel that is very important. We’ve been so good the past two years and we need to keep it up, work hard and hopefully get another state championship.”
Like Meg Gatlin, Johnson has also been tasked with helping to lead the team this year.
She is anxious to start the season at the end of next week and ready for the challenge of replacing the senior group from last year.
“We had a long break,” she said. “And I am just really excited to get back out on the field and moving the pieces around replacing the seniors that left.”
One of those moves involves Meg Gatlin shifting from center field to second base replacing her sister Nan who will now suit up for Coach Shea Johnson at Southwest Mississippi Community College.
Coach Gatlin said that the move was done because of the chemistry between Meg and Johnson who plays nearby at shortstop.
“What you do is you look at the skillset of your players and the need for your team and you just go through and match it up,” he said. “Coach Ron (Rushing) and I thought that it would be a good move to move Meg to second (base) so that she and Lana (Johnson) could have that middle infield connection. And it is like old saying goes, you have to be strong up the middle.”
Among the other moves Gatlin has made is shifting Gillihan from right field to center next to fellow returning starter in left fielder Gigi Lindsey. Kate Clements, who got ample time working behind the plate last year in relief of recent graduate Rachel Platt will take over as the primary catcher.
On the mound, Coach Gatlin will have to replace ace pitcher Alli Albritton. But he has a pair of pitchers returning in senior Emme Wallace and sophomore Skye Sharp. Both have plenty of experience despite Sharp missing nearly all of last season nursing an arm injury.
“I feel really good about them, two really hard workers,” he said. “(It is) Emme (Wallace’s) senior year and I expect her to work hard. And (Skye) Sharpe is very hungry, she is ready and she has pitched very well on the travel circuit and her velocity is almost back to where it was. But most importantly she is pain free. I expect those two to be a big 1-2 combo.”
Parklane opens the season Aug. 1 with a tournament at Clinton Christian. The home opener for the Pioneers is on Aug. 4 against Jackson Academy.