Manchester girls boast deep and talented roster –
By Mark Carpenter –
Coming off a 9-14 season in 2017, head coach John Kennedy and his Manchester lady Greyhounds softball squad are looking to make some big jumps in the 2018 campaign. With a deep roster and a lot of returnees, Kennedy is hoping to see his Lady Hounds compete in a loaded small school division of the Southern Hills Athletic Conference.
“”Fairfield and Peebles (both is the small school) are the class of the conference,” says Kennedy. “They should be 1-2 in the small school with Fayetteville and us to follow. Eastern will likely win the big school, with their pitching.”
It is usually the case in fast-pitch softball that if a team has that one stud pitcher and a solid infield defense, they can go a long way. The Lady Hounds have a luxury in the center circle, with five available arms on the pitching rubber- sophomore Madison Jones, freshmen Brooke Kennedy and Gabby Brown, and juniors Kenzie Bell and Macy Huron.
“We are very fortunate to have some pitching depth and I plan to use all five, especially with us having 26 games scheduled,” said Kennedy. “Brooke and Gabby, though freshmen, have probably pitched more than the other three because of their travel ball experience. Madison is looking stronger and seems poised for a breakout season. Kenzie is fighting some shoulder issues, but when she is healthy she brings a different style to the circle. Macy is the most improved and I an anxious to see what she can do for us.”
“Madison and Brooke will likely be our 1A and 1B, with the other three all right there together getting innings as well.”
Just as important at the other end of the battery is the team’s backstop, and the Lady Hounds have one of the top catchers in the conference in junior Josie Campbell. Campbell hit .358 last season and will be counted on as one of the team’s main run producers, besides her athletic ability behind the plate.
“Josie is a softball player, period,” says Coach Kennedy. “She has good bloodlines for the sport and it shows, she’s been around the game since her first breath. She does a great job for us and he most important trait is her leadership. She is well-respected by her teammates and as she goes, we will go.”
The depth of the Lady Hounds will lead to a number of positional battles. At first base, the team has three girls still battling for the spot in Brown and seniors McKinlee Grooms and Jennifer Scott. According to Kennedy, all three have good bats and all three will likely see time at the position this spring. The second base spot is securely held by senior Katie Sandlin, who has been an All-Conference performer in the past and has a solid bat and good speed on the basepaths. Her backup, with a bright future according to the coach, will be freshman Abby Young.
At shortstop, the Lady Hounds will use a combination of Kennedy and Jones, whichever one isn’t pitching that day. Sophomore Taylor Morrison could also see some time at short.
At the hot corner, the lady Hounds will plug in senior Karley Young, who recently signed to continue her softball career at Mount St. Joseph University. Young was All-SHAC and Second Team All-District in 2017, hitting .353, and described by her coach as a gap to gap hitter who can put the ball in play and move runners. If Young needs a break , the Lady Hounds can call on senior Kya Taylor or freshman Yasmin Lucas. Taylor was one of the team’s leading RBI bats last spring and a solid middle-of-the-order bat. Coach Kennedy says that Lucas just hits “everything hard.”
The outfield will include junior Aaliyah Smith, who hit a rousing .419 last year, the Lady Hounds’ slap hitter who is described by the coach as a “blur on the bases.” Morrison will see most of her time in right field, with good speed and a good arm as her main assets, while junior Madison Young will handle the majority of the duties in left field, though she has battled injuries in the preseason.
Having such a deep roster will allow Coach Kennedy the flexibility to move players around to various positions, especially his younger girls, a great opportunity to prepare them for the future. “We have 20 kids overall, and at least 16 of them could see significant varsity action,” says Kennedy. “We will have to make some improvement on defense because that has been our downfall at times in the past when I least expected it. Hopefully that changes.”
Besides the rigors of the conference schedule, the Lady Hounds will play a tough non-conference slate that will include Rock Hill, Fairland, New Boston, Green, Portsmouth East, St. Joseph, and Western Latham.
“I loaded up our schedule with mostly Division IV teams that we could possibly face in the sectional or district tournament,” said Kennedy. “Manchester hasn’t won a softball sectional since 1994 and our goal is to change that and add to the banner.”