One does not have to visit with Jacksonville High School head softball coach Brittney Batten very long to pick up on her excitement when it comes to talking about the Fightin Maidens' strength this season.
With 12 players, which includes eight seniors, returning off of last year's bi-district finalist squad, it is easy to see why Batten can't wait for the new campaign to get under way.
“Twelve of the 13 girls that we had last year are back, and eight of those are seniors, so we should have plenty of experience and leadership,” Batten said during a pre-practice interview on Thursday afternoon. “After five days, we are hitting the ball well and the defense is starting to come around, so I am pleased with out progress at this point.”
Batten said that she believes Jacksonville should be in the thick of the District 17-5A playoff mix this spring.
“We should be pretty good, but I am biased,” she said. “We have lots of big power (hitters) and we have Maggie (Lucky) back who can run, and I am expecting Abbie Clevenger to do a good job in the circle, and we also have a couple of other pitchers coming back, Saylor Williams and Emily Moriera.”
The biggest question mark going into the season seems to be at the catcher position, where freshman Kylie McCown will be taking over the backstop duties, which was necessitated by Winter Hammons' early graduation.
“Our seniors (Clevenger, Lucky, Trinity Dudley, Riley Rodriguez, Sierra Richardson, Breezey Robinson, Denorah Hernandez and Kenzie Rawlinson) have taken Kylie under their wing,” Batten said with a smile.
Another new addition is Gracie Jackson, who transferred in from Rusk. Jackson was the Lady Eagles' starting shortstop last season, and she can also be utilized in the circle, according to Batten.
“We have a lot of depth at pitcher,” Batten said. “We have seven or eight that can pitch this year. That is a new thing for us, but a good thing.”
After scrimmages at Lufkin (Feb. 3) and Bullard (Feb. 6) the Fightin' Maidens will open the regular season by hosting Rusk at 6 p.m. on Feb. 13.
Batten said that she upgraded her team's non-conference schedule in hopes of preparing the girls for conference play and ultimately the post season.
Jacksonville will visit Van and host Mount Pleasant, in a couple of single games of interest.
The Maidens are also scheduled to play in three tournaments this season; one in Carthage and two that will be hosted by Whitehouse.
“These tournaments usually attract some pretty tough teams, so we are looking forward to playing in them,” Batten said.
Batten said there are no easy games in conference this year and that the Maidens will have to be ready to play every night.
“Lindale is always good and I expect them to be again this year, and Whitehouse has everyone coming back, so we will have to watch out for them, and Corsicana has a lot of talent,” she said. “Really, there is not going to be any easy games in our district, and anything can happen on any given night. We are going to have to bring it every game.”
Jeri Simpson will be serving as head junior varsity coach this season, while Melissa Hinojosa and Kelsie Batten will work as varsity assistant coaches.
Hinojosa and Kelsie Batten were members of University of Texas-Tyler's 2016 NCAA Division III National Championship softball team.
Kelsie Batten went on to be named as the NFCA National Player of the Year. She went 36-4 in the circle and sported an earned run average of 1.02.