The Neosho Lady Wildcats finished 11-15 overall last season, but caught fire at the right time with district tournament wins over Joplin and Republic leading Neosho to the district title game.
With most of their roster back this season, second-year head coach Catie Cummins — a former Neosho High softball standout who played collegiately at NCAA Division II Pittsburg State — and the Lady Wildcats are geared up for big things in 2018.
“Our expectations are to win a conference and district championship,” Cummins said. “Getting a taste of the district championship game was huge for our girls and our program, but just getting there isn’t enough.”
Webb City defeated Neosho for the district title and the Lady Wildcats return to Class 4, District 11 this season with Carthage, Joplin, Republic, Webb City, and Willard their competitors. McDonald County dropped to Class 3 when MSHSAA released classifications and districts for 2018 on Friday.
The biggest loss from last season is Tori Frazier, who now plays at Pitt State’s Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association rival Missouri Southern.
“Tori was and is a great softball player we will miss her in center field and as a leadoff batter,” Cummins said. “Her leadership, work ethic and attitude will be missed the most. But I know we will have a cast of girls that will look to fill those holes.”
Among the key returning players are catcher Taylor Baker, pitcher Kyla Daspit, and third baseman Mikayla Long.
“Kyla Daspit will continue to do the majority of our pitching,” Cummins said. “Brittany Winchester, a sophomore, will look to have more opportunities in the circle this season to help Kyla out. Brittany came in relief for Kyla last year, but has had a great off season.
“It’s huge to have Taylor back and our infield as well. Kyla and Taylor work well together. They both have that ‘go get it’ attitude where they continue to fight for each other. That matches well with Coach (Sarah) Williams, our pitching coach, because she is tough and has high expectations of them both.
“My expectations for Mikayla Long are to continue to grow as an infielder and a hitter. She has always been our most vocal player on the infield and we will look for her to continue in that role. In this offseason, she has shown great improvement in strength and patience at the plate. She was showing signs of what we call ‘good aggressive’ at the plate.”
The Lady Wildcats have several other returning players.
“We will have Amber Shepeard and Bre Slavens returning in the outfield for their senior seasons,” Cummins said. “They split time in right field and Bre was a DP throughout last season. In the infield, we will return Kayla Bach, Megan Geller, Mikayla Long, Kyla Daspit, and Sierra Jones.”
There’s also been an infusion of new talent.
“We have a few freshmen that will come in and compete for varsity time,” Cummins said. “Maddie Carpenter, Kaitlyn Killion, and Lili Graue all have speed, can play multiple positions, and are treats at the plate. Figuring out where they fit among our returners will be a challenge.”
Seems like a challenge most teams would envy.
Neosho opens its season Tuesday, August 27, on the road against Cassville and the Lady Wildcats do not open at home until September 4 against Central Ozark Conference foe Republic. Republic will be the conference opener in addition to home opener.
Aug. 27 — at Cassville
Aug. 31-Sept. 1 — Joplin Tournament
Sept. 4 — vs. Republic
Sept. 6 — vs. Willard
Sept. 10 — at McDonald County
Sept. 11 — at Carl Junction
Sept. 13 — at Ozark
Sept. 18 — vs. Carthage
Sept. 20 — vs. Branson
Sept. 25 — vs. Webb City
Sept. 27 — at Nixa
Oct. 2 — at Joplin
Oct. 4 — vs. East Newton
Oct. 5-6 — Carthage Tournament
Oct. 8 — vs. Seneca