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Softball preview: Jefferson Forest

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A new generation

By Mike Forster

 

Children inherit from their parents.

Unless you're talking about Jefferson Forest softball.

New Head Coach Jay Gray takes over a team which was crafted, in part, by his daughter.  Joanna Hardin, Gray's kiddo, coached the team until the 2012 season.  She then moved on to coach at McNeese State.

Last year, Bob McCarthy took the helm, leading the Lady Cavs into the second round of regional play.  Gray was his assistant.

Now, Hardin's pop will see what he can do as he takes the reins.

He's got plenty of talent with which to work, though he has some serious gaps to fill.  Alexis Brown, who was a dominant pitcher at JF for all four of her years, is off studying pre-med at William and Mary these days.

Outfielder Callie O'Brien is suiting up for the Ferrum Panthers.

The loss of those two players was, of course, expected.  What is a surprise is the absence of Addy Farmer.  A superb catcher, Farmer is suffering the effects of leg surgery and appears to be sidelined for the immediate future.  Her fire and skill will certainly be missed.

Still, plugging three holes doesn't rate as a Herculean task, particularly since Gray knows he's got a crackerjack hurler to step into the pitcher's circle.  Janelle Zellars came on strong at the end of last season, her freshman year.  

Now, the righty brings a repertoire of four solid pitches.  We're told she's also working on a drop-pitch.  "She's a very fierce competitor," notes Gray.  "She has great movement and speed and spots her fastball really well."

Such a critique should give upcoming opponents less-than-restful sleep.

With Farmer out, Gray has a trio of talented catchers who can handle Zellars.  Sam Wells, who was a big contributor in basketball, is a junior.  Wells, who hails from Wisconsin, should be able to "badger" opposing base runners.

Freshmen Ashley Jennings and Bailey Gardner are new to the varsity, but have spent many innings catching Zellars's heat.  

As Zellars played first base last year, filling that slot becomes problematic.  Until, that is, you see that either Anna Pfister or freshman Kayli Mull could plug into the slot.  If it's Mull, Pfister can cover second base, which she did quite well last year.

Rounding out the middle infield will be Jeanine Minnick.  Last year's All-Seminole First Team shortstop sported a .425 batting average and a glove that seemed to be made of flypaper.

What we like about her is her lack of a sense of intimidation.  She shows that at bat and in the field.  We also like her intelligence, with Gray calling her "MENSA-smart."

Madison McGrath was last year's third baseman.  She can switch hit and has enough speed to slap-and-go from the plate.  She's also blessed with cat-like reflexes.

Freshman Skylar Jenkins should also see some time at third, in addition to being a solid option for outfield duty.

The team's captains will also prowl the outfield.  Casey Roginski will, once again, find center field to her liking.  She's a vocal leader: a general, if you will.

The other captain is MacKenzie Mount, who''ll be found roaming right field.

Mount is a very good contact hitter, whom Gray calls a great student of the game.

Others who should find some time in the outfield (among other places) are sophomores Story Smith and Morgan Arrington, as well as junior Kacie Crosswite.

"We're as strong as we were last year," assessed Gray.  That should bring meager comfort to upcoming foes, since JF has won the last two Seminole District tournaments.

"I like that the team works well together," said Gray, who noted that the girls have played together a long time, in spite of all of their youth.

Young or not, the team will have to come together in rapid fashion, as the Lady Cavs face a slate that has nine games in 11 days.  That rugged slate begins with a March 19 game at always-troublesome Brookville.  It ends 11 days later at powerful Amherst.

That's a test, but one these young ladies should pass.