Help is here for Lady Cavs

Published 10:42 pm Friday, March 14, 2014

An experienced squad with some important new help forms the identity of Lakeland High School’s softball team entering its 2014 season.

Lady Cavaliers head coach Cara Byrd returns for a second season, and though the first one resulted in a difficult, sub-.500 year, she and her players are well-acquainted since the team only lost two seniors from 2013.

Lakeland High School freshman Whitney Jones pitches during a scrimmage on Tuesday against visiting Granby High School.

Lakeland High School freshman Whitney Jones pitches during a scrimmage on Tuesday against visiting Granby High School.

This year, Lakeland features experience and youth, with five seniors, six sophomores, one freshman and no juniors.

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“I think we’re going to do a lot better than last year, because, first of all, we have somebody to help Katie (Peelen) out on the mound,” Byrd said.

This assistance for the Lady Cavs’ starting sophomore pitcher will primarily come from freshman Whitney Jones, who also plays first base.

“I think she’s going to add a lot for us,” Byrd said. She also cited Jones’ ability as a hitter when she said, “I think she’s going to add some power to my lineup.”

Also helping take pressure off of Peelen in the circle will be fellow sophomore Tori Abel, who will pitch some, though initially her impact will come more on offense.

“She’s got a really strong bat,” Byrd said.

The coach listed two seniors as her primary standouts this season.

The first is catcher Sarah Bowyer, who earned second team all-district honors last year after producing a .449 batting average and .755 on-base percentage. She is verbally committed to North Carolina Wesleyan College, anticipating signing with the school in April.

Byrd also highlighted Summer Parker, who had a school record-breaking year as a field hockey player that was felt throughout the state and registered on a national level, as well. She will lend her talents to the softball team at second base and also at bat, after logging a .321 batting average and .464 on-base percentage in 2013.

Coach Byrd said the Virginia High School League’s realignment is a change she would have rather not been made.

“I would rather have stuck with our district,” she said.

She did acknowledge the positive effect it could have on her team’s win-loss record.

“It will give us a better opportunity to advance because I feel like, competitively, we are stronger,” she said, but was wary of other new factors.

The Lady Cavaliers will not be facing its Ironclad Conference opponents until the end of the season. Given her unfamiliarity with those teams, Byrd said she would like to play them sooner.

Also, Byrd said the Southeastern District teams provided her team with a challenge. If the conference teams from schools of like size do not, she expressed concern this could breed over-confidence should it advance to face proven regional competitors.

“You’re going to be playing the Beach teams,” Byrd said. “They’re super strong.”

For now, she is focused on helping her team overcome obstacles that will help it gain strength of its own.

“Our biggest thing that we’re working on is being aggressive on the bases,” she said.

Work has been put in during pre-season to string together consecutive hits in order to move players on the bases and produce runs.

The coach said the Lady Cavs are also working to take advantage of every opportunity that opposing defenses give them.

Byrd is currently pregnant, with the baby due at the end of May, but still hopes to take in her team’s entire season.

“It might affect post-season play, but hopefully, if we do make it, I’ll at least just be able to come out there after the baby,” she said.

Lakeland begins the regular season at home on Tuesday against Great Bridge High School.