The Parklane Pioneers enter the 2019 softball season knowing what it takes to win a state title after doing so last season. Now the focus shifts to defending the title and keeping the momentum going as the ladies open the regular season Friday at Clinton Christian Academy.
“We are really excited about this year, the girls have put forth a very good effort during the summer,” Parklane head coach Greg Gatlin said. “Expectations for them will be very, very high and I think that they have taken that and they understand that when we go play somebody that there will be a target on their back and they will have to play very well every time that they go out. I don’t think that we will be able to sneak up on anybody this year.”
Gone is Gabby Hutson, who graduated earlier this year, but the team grew stronger with six new players who will be competing for playing time.
This season’s squad will feature seven seniors in Rachel Platt, Halee Jenkins, Nan Gatlin, Alli Robinson, Alli Albritton, Maddie Dixon and Emma Roberts.
Gatlin admits that for some of the girls the thought of having the target on their back may be a bit overwhelming for them.
“Maybe so, but we have seven seniors and we just got done electing our team captains and that was Nan Gatlin, Alli Albritton, Rachel Platt and Libby Carr,” he said. “Those four kids have played a lot of softball and they will help get any of the kids who may have some overwhelming feelings about that type of thing.”
For Albritton she looks at the upcoming year as the chance to do something special. “We have so many seniors and it is our last hurrah here,” she said. “I just want to go out with a bang.”
Albritton is one of three starting pitchers — along with Emme Wallace and Skye Sharp — that Coach Gatlin used mostly as his rotation last season. He admits that the trio have earned their innings but he will also try to work other girls in as well.
“The three girls, they have done nothing but get better during the summer (and) they will get their innings for sure,” Coach Gatlin said. “But we are always trying to develop pitchers as well. Emma Roberts has had a good offseason and she throws the ball well. She will have an opportunity, especially early in the season as we play tournaments to earn some innings.”
And with Skye Sharp emerging as a dark horse last year leading the pitching staff in innings pitched (111.1) and wins (4), Coach Gatlin believes that another pitcher will really step up her game and stand out.
“I think that Emme Wallace has put herself into a good situation where she is going to show everyone how much hard work she has put in and how she is a product of hard work,” he said. “She works as hard or harder than most kids her age and she is determined to take her game to the next level and I think that you are going to see that this year.”
Heading into the season, Platt says that it is important for the girls not to get ahead of themselves and think that repeating as champions is going to be easy.
“We have expectations but it is not going to be given to you,” she said. “I think that we have to keep working harder and harder and we do have a target on our backs but it makes it a more competitive atmosphere.”
Platt will return as one of the key pieces on offense along with hits leader Meg Gatlin and Carr who led the team in home runs (4) and RBIs (34).
Overall, Coach Gatlin is anxious to get the season underway tomorrow evening and is expecting big things from his girls this year.
“We are really excited about starting back and competing, seeing how much we have progressed since last year because I think that this team is going to be a better product than it was last year. The girls have put the time in," he said.
“We are really, really excited to see what Parklane softball has this year. We’ve done really well with creating a very good atmosphere here at Parklane and I am ready to show the fans and administration and the people who want to watch good softball.
“I am ready to put that product out of the field and get going.”