By Troy Treasure
The North Shelby softball team consists of 20 players. Sixteen are underclassmen, eight sophomores and eight freshmen.
That’s not to say the Lady Raiders lack senior leadership. Kaylin Bales, Lilly Cook and Hannah Wahl provide that.
However, several of the current 10th graders were significant contributors to last year’s 10-12 team. NS defeated rival Marion County in thrilling fashion at Class 1 District 9 (Knox County) before their season ended with a semifinal loss to eventual state runner-up Canton.
Heading into the season opener on Tuesday, Sept. 1 at home against Knox County, expect sophomore pitcher Natalie Thrasher to be in the circle. Head coach Haley Hardy indicated Thrasher’s command has been very good in preseason practice.
“She has great spin on her ball,” Hardy said. “She’s got a good screwball and then this summer, she’s been working on a riseball that is pretty consistent. She’s got a really good changeup, too.”
Haley described what makes the riseball pitch difficult to hit.
“It comes in like it’s a strike. At the very last second, it’s going to rise up and out of the zone,” she explained. “Hers works really well.”
The other pitchers, at least early on, are expected to be freshman Whitney Snow and Bales, who missed a substantial portion of last season due to illness.
Hardy said last week several starting spots were still undetermined.
“We’ve got about 12 really good athletes for nine spots out here,” she said. “I’m still wrapping my brain around, ‘Who’s going to be the best third baseman? Who’s going to be the best center fielder?’
“We have options,” Hardy said.
Sophomore Caroline Linberger is a given to be on the field, likely at shortstop. Cook has second base.
“I’m kind of telling Lilly, ‘OK, you need to kind of help Caroline so she can become that vocal leader,’” Hardy said. “The shortstop is the queen of the infield. They are in charge of everyone out there.”
Sophomore Cierra Kirby looks to be the starting leftfielder with freshman Marissa McEwen behind the plate. Kirby will be the back-up catcher.
“Meg Shively at first base, that’s probably her set position, too, but some of the other ones, they are up in the air,” Hardy said.
Even when positions are determined for the season opener, times are such everything can change in a day. Hardy stated the team had a meeting the first day of practice about COVID-19. She said precautions are taken every day.
“It’s going to be a crazy year. I hope we all stay healthy so we can finish this season,” Hardy said.
Under MSHSAA guidelines, Hardy indicated a positive case would result in the entire team being quarantined for 14 days followed by seven conditioning practices. Three weeks of the season would be lost.
NOTES: NS is scheduled to host Canton on Thursday, Sept. 10 … barring a change in circumstances, Sept. 19 is the North Shelby Tournament … the Lady Raiders are scheduled to participate in two other tournaments: Paris (Sept. 26) and La Plata (Oct. 3) … the annual North versus South Shelby contest is slated for Oct. 1 with the Lady Birds as host.