The Blue Springs South softball team had a magical ride during its 2016 season.
The Jaguars made it to the Class 5 state championship game and nearly won their first title in program history before they fell to Troy Buchanan 4-3.
That was, of course, a heartbreaker for South, but the team will have another shot at it this year. The Jaguars return nine varsity players from last year’s squad.
However, the Jags lost the entire middle of their lineup as all-state players Bailey Fowler and Madi Hecker along with Makenzie Musgrove and Mackenzie Warmund either graduated or aren’t playing this season. So, South will need to find a way to replace that power.
“Those shoes will be very hard to fill with those two gone,” South pitcher Easton Seib said, referring to Fowler and Hecker. “I think we’ll make it work. There will be some small ball and if someone gets hot, maybe the power hitting will come from there.”
Right now, that’s a work in progress as South coach Kristi Williams has three infield spots and one outfield spot to fill with former junior varsity players.
One huge return is all-state hurler Sydney Righi, who will share time in the circle with Seib again. That gives the Jaguars stability, having the same two players who kept other teams off balance during a deep playoff run.
Aside from those two, Madison Crosslin, Katie Odegard, Eden Tolliver, Haley Woolf, Melanie Roberts, Aubrie Munoz, Abby Sciara and Nicole Curtis will help fill out the lineup.
“There is not one senior who wasn’t a part of that state run last year,” Williams said. “That’s the great thing about having nine kids back from that run. They know exactly what it’s going to take to do what we have to do.”
For Williams, one of the first things she wants to establish is a team identity.
“We’re still together as a big group,” Williams said. “We have six everyday field returners, so that’s a good thing. We have some really young kids who are ready to step up. I think we’re going to be fine. It’s just a matter of finding out what our personality is and what our playing style is going to be as a team.”
Helping that cause is playing in two tournaments – the Greater Kansas City and Rockwood Summit tournaments – to begin the season, starting on Aug. 19.
“We play nine games in seven days,” Williams said. “That will help up us find out what kind of team we’re going to be going into the rest of the season. The kids who have come back have gotten bigger and stronger.
“I wouldn’t put it past us to put up a lot of runs. We have some kids who are ready to step up and kids who have their potential and young kids who have been waiting for their opportunity. If we are a team that has to scratch out runs, that’s fine. If we get into a slugfest and we have to outhit other teams, that’s fine too. This team has the potential to be a lot of things.”
One thing that shouldn’t change is the pitching with two consistent starters who had earned run averages below 3.00.
Seib said she has been working on her control and putting more movement on her rise ball over the summer.
“That’s one of my pitches that I have been really set on improving,” Seib said.
Righi said she is working on much of the same things like her accuracy and movement.
“I want to put everything I have into each pitch and just get outs,” Righi said.
The defense also should be solid with the majority of South’s fielders returning.
“We have a lot of chemistry,” Seib said. “We’ve played together for a while and we know how to work together. Our defense will be pretty solid.”
Added Righi: “Having those girls behind me makes me more comfortable in the circle.”
Williams isn’t putting any expectations on her players to make it back to state, but just wants her team to only focus on the game in front of it.
“My favorite thing to say is, ‘Right here. Right now,’” Williams said. “They always give me a hard time for it, but it’s true. They make fun of me about it but they buy in. That’s how it has to be.”
Added Righi: “We want to make it back to state, but we still have to take it one game at a time.”