HEBRON ESTATES – A year ago, the North Bullitt softball team made big strides during the season under first-year head coach Mike Nally.
From being 3-25 in 2012, Nally and the Lady Eagles finished 9-15 last season. Even more impressive, the team picked up six of those wins in the month of May. The end didn’t come until the team lost a 2-1 decision to Southern in the first-round of the 23rd District Tournament on the Lady Trojans home field. That Southern team went on to reach the Sixth Region semi-finals.
This year the expectations are higher, but the green and gold do have some serious graduation losses to overcome. Nally’s second team returns on five starters and the program has only five seniors.
On the other hand, the players know the coach better and the coach knows the players better.
“I think our understanding is a bit better,” Nally said from his office in the North Bullitt press box on Monday. “Our whole disposition has changed from last year.
“We have four seniors and two of those have taken charge of the program,” the coach added. “Carly Benz is one of the top athletes in the county and she has teamed with Bri Johnson to take hold of this team.”
Benz has already signed to play at St. Catharine University next season.
“We played Bethlehem on Thursday and last year we went to their place and lost like 11-1,” Nally pointed out. “This year we had 12 hits against them and lost 11-8. We came back from a lot of different problems. That’s a good sign. Last year’s team would not have done that.”
The Lady Eagles picked up their first win of the season on Monday when they beat Fairdale 7-6.
Nally has revamped his coaching staff for this season, bring in two of the players that he worked with when he was an assistant coach at Indiana University Southeast. Now, the team’s two paid assistants are Megan Sutherland and Kayla Duke. The program also has volunteer coaches Scott Wayne and Donnie Curtsinger.
“Most of the girls played last summer,” Nally said of the travel ball circuit. “We’ve made it your reward for being in the program. We had several travel teams that I coached or others in the program coached. We want to keep them busy with this.”
At this point, Nally is looking at senior Elise Mills to start in the circle most of the time. Junior Shelby Crenshaw has also done some pitching over the last two seasons, but she has developed into a strong shortstop and Nally would prefer to keep her there to strengthen the defense.
That means that sophomore Jessica Wayne will do some of the pitching duties. Still, as the season develops, Nally says that Lady Eagle fans could seen Mills, Crenshaw or Wayne in the circle, but there will not be a set rotation.
“It will just depend on the situation and who is doing well,” Nally explained. “I just will hand one of them a ball and we’ll go from there.”
This is not a pitching staff that can go out and blow the ball by opposing batters.
“They will have to mix up their locations and throw different speeds and on different planes,” the coach said. “They really won’t blow it by anyone.”
Doing the catching will be Johnson who saw a lot of varsity action last season, but not behind the plate. Nally is hoping that the senior can do 90 to 95 percent of the catching.
Freshman Lily Curtsinger is next in line to do the catching.
In the infield, junior Madison Zachary has grabbed the position at first base, but eighth-grader Madison Ludwig will also see time at first. At second base, the Lady Eagles will be really young as sixth-grader Carissa Summers is in the mix for playing time along with eighth-grader Alanna Summers as well as Ludwig.
On the left side of the infield, Crenshaw will play at shortstop ‘as much as possible,’ according to Nally. Either of the Summers sisters could fill in as well as Wayne. At third base, the Lady Eagles could use sophomore Tabitha Sizemore, Curtsinger or senior Leeanna Hundley.
At this point, the North Bullitt outfield will have Benz starting along with Hundley and junior Bre Sherrard, but which of the three spots they will fill is still being worked out. Support for the outfield will come from Alana Summers and freshman Hannah Robinson.
Nally is looking at having 15 players on the varsity roster. The program has 22 players overall. The coach also mentioned freshmen Tabitha Kerr and Mallory Miles as well as eighth-grader Mary Andres as players who could see spot duty as pinch-runners or pinch-hitters.
“Our number one goal is to treat the regular season as a learning experience,” Nally concluded. “Then we want to be extremely competitive in the post-season. We just need to move in the right direction and then things will work out.”
In the 23rd District, Southern won the title last year with 2-1 wins over North Bullitt and Bullitt Central. Nally feels that those three will be that close again, but he points to Bullitt Central as having the best athletes.
In the Sixth Region, the coach points to Mercy and Bullitt East at the top of the pecking order with Butler and Pleasure Ridge Park in the next tier of teams.
North Bullitt will play Bullitt East on Friday at home. The Lady Eagles will also face Butler during the regular season. In terms of the district games, Nally put all of his eggs in one basket as the green and gold will play their three district rivals over a four-day period starting on April 21 when they travel to Bullitt Central.
For the first time ever, the team will travel to out-of-state for spring break, taking part in a tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.