Ada — The Ada High softball team is all seniored up this fall.
Head coach Scott Simpson has 10 seniors on the roster this year, most of which have been major contributors over the past three seasons.
“I’ve had eight of them since the seventh grade,” Simpson said. “They know what I expect. There’s no mystery after all these years, they know what I’m looking for. It’s a good group of seniors.”
The Lady Cougars finished 22-13 in 2010, winning a hard-fought district tournament battle with Byng before finishing runner-up at a 4A Regional that included No. 1 Blanchard, the host team, which rolled to the title.
“We should be pretty decent. We had a pretty good year overall last season,” Simpson said.
Blakeley Franz, one of those seniors who has been a rock at first base throughout her varsity career, won’t start the 2011 season with her teammates. She was recently diagnosed with a case of mononucleosis (commonly referred to as mono) and could miss anywhere from two weeks to three months while recovering.
It’s just the latest in a series of bizarre bad luck for Franz. She missed playing time as a sophomore when she injured her shoulder in a freak accident while swinging at a pitch and was sidelined some of her junior campaign with a staph infection.
“This is the third straight year for her. I feel for her,” Simpson said. “We’ll miss her. It really hurts us on defense.”
The past two seasons, Simpson was able to plug Alanah Canfield into that spot and the Lady Cougars hardly missed a beat. With Canfield now an Ada graduate, Simpson will have to look at other options, including senior Halley Taylor, a move-in from Byng.
“We’re still trying to figure that out. We tried Halley there and she looked OK. We have a couple of sophomores that could play at first base too,” Simpson said.
Another new senior is Shelby Cranford, who came to Ada from Stonewall. She has been penciled in to play shortstop for Ada after the loss of Charlesey YoungWolfe (the only other senior on last year’s team) to graduation.
Talented catcher Taryn Jack is back for her senior campaign. Besides being outstanding behind the plate, Jack has been among Ada’s best hitters for the past three years. And Simpson said she has shown even more pop at the plate this preseason.
“She had a good summer with a select team in Oklahoma City,” Simpson said. “She’s hitting the ball pretty well, and her power has improved at the plate.”
During a couple of preseason contests in Tishomingo last week, Jack hit two home runs. And while taking some batting practice recently, Jack hit three consecutive pitches out of the park. All this after recording just one home run (as a sophomore against Konawa) during her first three varsity seasons.
“She’s definitely got a little more pop in her bat,” Simpson said.
Jack has also developed into one of the more vocal leaders on the team.
“She’s stepped up as far as leadership. I think she’s going to have a pretty special season. She’s a great kid,” Simpson said.
Jenna Huling, who made a number of highlight-reel plays in center field last season, will be back in the outfield as a senior. She led her summer fastpitch team to a championship at an IFA Qualifier in Mustang and was named the tournament’s MVP.
“She looks good in center field. She can go back and right or left. She covers a lot of ground out there,” Simpson said.
Speedy senior Allison Keel will return to man her spot at second base and will again be a table-setter for the Lady Cougar offense at the top of the batting order.
“She really improved last year, especially hitting-wise. She’s looking good this year, and she’s better in the field. She’s really starting to show her athleticism,” Simpson said.
Amory Morgan, Laramie Brady and Taylor Alexander should also see increased playing time as seniors this year after performing well at times as juniors.
Junior Leah Huling will be back in the pitching circle this year after a strong sophomore campaign in which she won 17 games for the Lady Cougars.
“Leah’s control has improved. I look for a big season from her,” Simpson said.
Another junior, Cayden Howard, logged a number of innings last season and will be expected to carry some of the pitching load again this season.
“Pitching will be our strength. Leah has looked good in the preseason, and Cayden Howard has looked real good the last couple of nights (during summer league games in Tishomingo),” Simpson said. “Cayden’s been hitting the ball pretty well too. When she’s not pitching, we may have her hitting for somebody.”
Jenna Huling could also pitch some this season and sophomore Lindi Robinson could also see some work in the circle.
Another junior, Breanna Foster, will again be part of a rotation in the outfield.
Simpson said he would like to see his team be more consistent at the plate heading into the 2011 season.
“We have to step up our hitting. We have to back up our pitchers. Our pitchers are going to keep us in just about every game,” he said. “We have to back them up and be confident at the plate.”