The Neosho Lady Wildcats accumulated a 28-26 overall record during head coach Catie Cummins’ first two seasons and with a talented freshman class joining a program coming off its best season since 2011, expectations are high for the 2019 season.
“In the 2017 season, we went to the district championship where we lost to a strong Webb City team,” Cummins said. “Our goal for last season was to get to the same place, but have a different outcome. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round of districts. With that being said, we had a better record and surprised a few teams along the way.”
The Lady Wildcats finished 15-10 last season, with a 3-0 loss to Willard in the Class 4, District 12 tournament a disappointing end one season after that surprising district title run.
At one point last season, Neosho rattled off seven consecutive victories, including three against Central Ozark Conference foes (Branson 10-2, Webb City 5-3, and Nixa 6-3). The victory over Webb City ended a long losing streak against the Lady Cardinals.
“Last year when we got into trouble it was from lack of run production,” Cummins said. “We would get girls on base, but couldn’t push them across. This year that will be a focus of ours and I’d expect to see that. We are returning Lili Graue and Kaitlyn Killion that put pressure on defenses with their speed.”
Taylor Baker, Amber Shepeard, and Bre Slavens graduated after last season, and they are not easy losses. Baker, a stalwart behind the plate for three seasons, hit .380 (30 for 79) with one home run and 23 RBI. Shepeard added 14 RBI and 22 runs scored, while Slavens bashed three homers and 17 RBI. All three were solid contributors during Cummins’ first two seasons.
As they say, though, the cupboard is far from being bare and the Lady Wildcats have a strong foundation in place for the upcoming season.
Sophomore outfielder Killion earned all-COC second team honors for a freshman season highlighted by a team-high .390 average (32-82) with 19 runs scored, five doubles, and 22 RBI. Killion also led the way with nine stolen bases, part of that speed that Neosho hopes will produce runs.
Senior third baseman Mikayla Long provided some major pop in the heart of the lineup with eight homers and 26 RBI, both team highs. Long finished with a slugging percentage of .712 and she also scored a team-high 27 runs.
Junior shortstop Sierra Jones added 17 RBI and Cummins said, “Great hands, gritty player, solid up the middle and at the plate, looking to see a lot from her this year.”
The Lady Wildcats return every starter on the infield with senior first baseman Kayla Bach and senior second baseman Megan Geller both three-year starters along with Long.
Senior pitcher Kyla Daspit logged the vast majority of work in the circle last season and she came through with a 13-7 overall record with a 2.94 ERA and 83 strikeouts and 26 walks in 126 innings.
As far as newcomers go, Cummins mentioned junior pitcher Brittany Winchester, freshman catcher McKaylie Forrest, and freshman utility Trinity Drake. Cummins said that Winchester could be an everyday player in the outfield; she was Neosho’s second pitcher last season.
“Kyla Daspit and Brittany Winchester will share the load this season,” Cummins said. “Kyla and Brittany are down ball pitchers that will get our defense a lot of ground balls. For us to be successful in the circle, we will want to keep our pitch count down to reduce the workload and, of course, always work ahead in the count.”
This season, Neosho plays tournaments in Joplin, Branson, and Carthage and local rivals McDonald County, East Newton, and Seneca in addition to the usual gauntlet of conference rivals. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the schedule.
“It is always our goal to finish in the top half of our conference,” Cummins said. “I believe that is a completely attainable goal. Of course, we would be pleased to finish first too. The COC is such a strong softball conference we cannot take anyone lightly. We will sit down the first week of practice and set team goals that we will look toward each day.”
2019 NEOSHO SOFTBALL
Sept. 5 — vs. Cassville
Sept. 6-7 — Joplin Tournament
Sept. 10 — at Republic
Sept. 12 — at Willard
Sept. 16 — vs. McDonald County
Sept. 17 — vs. Carl Junction
Sept. 19 — vs. Ozark
Sept. 20-21 — Branson Tournament
Sept. 24 — at Carthage
Sept. 26 — at Branson
Oct. 1 — at Webb City
Oct. 3 — vs. Nixa
Oct. 8 — vs. Joplin
Oct. 10 — at East Newton
Oct. 11-12 — Carthage Tournament
Oct. 14 — at Seneca