Lady Cavs face hurdles

Published 10:44 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Utility player Parker Baines is the lone senior on Lakeland’s softball team this year. She looks to connect with the ball during preseason practice on Wednesday, which took place in the Lakeland High School gym due to inclement weather.

Lakeland junior catcher Sarah Bowyer awaits a pitch from head softball coach Cara Byrd during a preseason practice session that was driven indoors on Wednesday due to inclement weather. Bowyer is expected to be a primary part of Lakeland’s 2013 softball team, both on defense and offense.

A young team and a new coach define the Lakeland softball team this year, but they aim to make success a part of that definition, as well.

The Lady Cavaliers advanced to the Southeastern District tournament last season and were eliminated in the first round.

Head coach Cara Byrd enters her first year as varsity coach, but she spent the previous four years coaching the junior varsity team.

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The 2013 roster is made up of four freshmen, two sophomores, six juniors and only one senior.

Byrd admitted that forming fixed expectations for the team at this point is difficult.

“It’s hard to say,” she said. “We’re young, so that’s something that we’re going to have to deal with, but also we have four young pitchers.”

“I guess my expectations are to compete, obviously, but to stay in games offensively, and we’re just going to have to play very good defense,” she said.

While inexperience is always something that needs to be dealt with, as Byrd indicated, there are two reasons the young players on the team may serve to aid the team’s success rather than be a hindrance — all of them have travel ball experience and all of them know Coach Byrd.

“They all play outside of school,” Byrd said. “They’re all a part of travel teams, so they’ve got that competitiveness that I like. They were all JV players with me last year, so they know my coaching style, they know how competitive I am, what my expectations are already. As far as gelling coach to player, we’re good there.”

Among the foremost standouts on the team is junior catcher Sarah Bowyer. One of the four returning starters from last year, Bowyer is the best batter on the team according to Byrd, hitting in the .300s.

“She’s got a very strong bat,” Byrd said. “She’s a clutch hitter. She’s very good at hitting to move runners or score runners. When she’s in that situation, she usually delivers.”

Freshman Stasha Waterfield will have a dual role in the infield and on the mound.

“She’ll be our starting shortstop, but I will definitely be using her (as a pitcher),” Byrd said.

Byrd also mentioned junior centerfielder Breanne Pendleton.

“She’s a switch-hitter, she had good eyes on the ball, she’s very poised at the plate,” she said.

Coach Byrd described one of two key challenges that rises to her attention as she considers what her team will be up against.

“Because we don’t have one dominant pitcher, we’re going to have to rely on the arms of four instead of one,” she said.

In addition to Waterfield, the oldest of the four young pitchers is sophomore Julie Williamson.

“Our ace will probably be Katie Peelen, who’s a ninth-grader,” Byrd said.

Freshman Tori Abel rounds out the pitching corps, which is made up entirely of right-handers.

The other major challenge will be the need to field a defense that performs, overall, at a high level game-in and game-out.

“We have to play with little-to-no error to be able to stay in games, defensively,” Byrd said.

In preseason practices, the team has also been working on conditioning and preparing for the pressure of a live game scenario. During a session on Wednesday that was forced indoors due to inclement weather, Byrd pitched to her players.

“They had three at-bats and if I struck them out, then that was all running that was added on to the end of practice,” she said. “So (I was) kind of giving them a little bit of an under pressure, at the plate-type scenario.”

As practice progressed, her players exuded a comfort that can only come with having a long, established relationship with their coach.

“They know what the game plan is and they know what the mission is for, not (just) now, but the next three years that I’ll have them,” Byrd said.

The Lady Cavaliers will travel to Western Branch High School on March 12 to open their season against the Lady Bruins.