The North Pike fastpitch softball team will enter the 2020 season looking to capitalize on yet another very successful campaign where the Jaguars made it to the South State Championship for the fourth-consecutive year.
But the elephant in the room facing the Jaguars is how they will replace four key pieces of their team —who are graduating in the Class of 2019.
Head coach Sonya Wallace will be faced with the task of replacing catcher Mary Kate Bates, third baseman Janiah Talbert, shortstop Jenna Brock and second baseman Madison Moak.
The group also represented the first four batters in the lineup.
“They are going to be a group that will be hard to replace, they have basically made up our infield over the last four to five years,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do trying to find replacements for them.”
Wallace is in the process of grooming some of the younger players into those open positions.
“It’s coming along OK,” she said. “We’ve seen some improvement with some of our younger kids and some of the older ones are stepping up.”
While the Jaguars will be losing the four, others who got quality playing time this past season will be returning.
One of those is center fielder Kaylea Wagner who will be looked upon as one of the big bats in the lineup as she returns for her freshman year.
She finished this past season with a .418 average, 10 doubles and two home runs. Wagner said that the disappointment of coming up short at South State will be motivation for next year.
A pair of sophomores who stepped up big for the Jaguars this season and who are expected to be key contributors are Joli Spears and Meredith Bates. Spears was the starting left fielder while Bates split time between pitching and first base.
“We know that it is going to be tougher this year because of the seniors that we are losing but we definitely are going to be ready and we are going to have to work hard this year,” Spears said.
Meredith Bates adds that the girls want to prove that even though they will be losing the four seniors they will look to keep the momentum going.
Also expected to return are starting right fielder Monica Davis and Natalie Deer who, like Bates, split time between first base and pitcher.
But when it comes to the new wave of senior leadership, that falls in the hands of Janiah’s younger sister Bridjette Talbert and Kat Dear.
“I’m excited to see how the girls and the team comes together and fill up the missing pieces,” Dear said.
For Bridjette Talbert, who missed significant time over the last two years due to injury, she will enter 2020 year even more motivated to succeed.
“I feel like once I come back, I am going to work myself even harder and work my team even harder so we can be the best we can be,” she said.
Even though Wallace has most of her infield to replace, the fact that she has the plenty of experience returning eases the process a bit more for her.
“I know that we’ve got some big kids coming up,” she said. “I have to train them to work hard and ball out and that will come with experience. The biggest concern of mine is the experience that we are losing. You can’t gain the experience overnight. Hopefully we’ll get a good group out here in the fall and help us get some experience for the spring.”