New era of NHS Lady Tiger softball on the horizon as Penn takes reins of program
Changes are in store for the Nevada Lady Tiger softball team, as new head coach Danny Penn looks to put his stamp on the program.
Penn, a longtime assistant coach with the softball team, was named the head coach in late May. He replaces Tammy Holcomb, the most successful coach in program history who has a state championship on her resume.
"I feel fortunate that I get to work with such a great and talented group of girls," Penn told the Daily Mail. "They have worked extremely hard over the summer, and we’ve had great turnout for our summer workouts and league games. It's a group of girls who work extremely hard on the field, and are a fun group off the field. I feel like we’ve had a really positive environment, and have excitement toward the season."
The Lady Tigers lose several key pieces from last season's 16-win district championship team, including four-year starting catcher/second baseman Cameron Holcomb. Nevada, however, keeps most of its district championship core intact, with ace pitcher Maggie Leisure, starting middle infielders Tylin Heathman and Abby Harder, and middle-of-the order hitters Hailee Lundine and Claire Pritchett. Additionally, both Lundine and Harder slot in behind Leisure on Penn's pitching staff.
"We have the potential to be a successful team," Penn said. "We bring back a lot of experience, especially in the circle and our middle infield. I’m confident we will be solid defensively, and put together quality at-bats."
Juniors Heathman (SS) and Harder (2B) form an especially potent middle infield combination.
"They do a good job of not only making plays, but also of keeping everyone else ready and in the game," said Penn of the duo.
Added Penn: "We have to throw quality strikes from the circle, and make the routine plays in the field. We have to be mentally prepared for each pitch and know our responsibility, whether the ball is hit to us or not."
The Lady Tigers' outfield is headlined by senior Madison Hyder and sophomore Bailey Ast.
"They have a lot of range and can really go get it," noted Penn.
Penn said his squad needs to be able to "control the controllables."
"Namely our pre-pitch preparation/thinking, and the effort we put forth," explained the veteran coach. "By really focusing on making sure we are doing those things to our highest capability, we should put ourselves into a position to be successful."
Replacing Holcomb at backstop is of paramount importance, according to Penn.
"I don’t know that we have any glaring weaknesses," began Penn. "We have to figure out who will be our primary catcher. (Lundine), Kirstin Buck, and Madison Hyder have all been working behind the plate over the summer, and I imagine all of them will catch at various points throughout the season. I’d like to find a primary catcher so we can really work on getting her as many reps as possible, and set our defense."
Penn anticipates having an above-average offense.
"Offensively, I think our lineup will be deep, and tough for opposing pitchers to get through," he said.
Summed up Penn: "We have the potential to be successful offensively, as the majority of our varsity girls have a good idea of what makes them successful at the plate."
Penn said plate discipline is key to his club's fortunes at the dish.
"We have the potential to be a dangerous team, but we have to be disciplined," he said. "We should have a deep lineup, but we have to make sure we are attacking pitches we want to hit, especially early in the count. Rather than swinging at, and getting ourselves out on a 'pitchers' pitch', we want to take that and swing at a pitch more to our liking. If we have the discipline to do that, I think we will be an explosive and exciting offense."
Added Penn: "I think we’ve got good table-setters with Madison, Bailey, Tylin, and Maggie. We also have some girls with the ability to drive them in, like Hailee, Claire Pritchett, Kirstin, and Maleigha (Hinton)."
Key additions include Hinton, as the junior third baseman missed the bulk of last season with a shoulder injury, as well as freshmen hurlers Buck and Cailyn Hollands.
The Lady Tigers season-opener is slated for Sept. 3, a home contest with Big 8 Conference West division foe Cassville.
"It’s a compact season, with a lot of games in a short time period," Penn said. "We have to understand we’ll face some adversity throughout the season, but we have to use those opportunities to grow together as a team and work toward being at our best as we approach the district tournament."
Penn added that he anticipates McDonald County and Monett will potentially be the cream of the crop in the Big 8 this season.
Lady Tiger roster
Seniors: Madison Hyder (OF/C), Maggie Leisure (P/IF), Hailee Lundine (P/C).
Juniors: Abby Harder (P/IF), Tylin Heathman (IF), Maleigha Hinton (P/IF/OF), Blair Wilson (OF).
Sophomores: Bailey Ast (OF/C), Jerica Collins (IF/C), Taylynn Culbertson (OF/IF), Jaycee Douglas (OF), Claire Pritchett (IF).
Freshmen: Caiden Blake (IF/OF), Riley Bobbett (IF), Kirstin Buck (P/IF/C), Teresa Dawn (IF/C), Cailyn Hollands (P/OF), Kiera Stafford (OF), Addison Starbuck (OF).
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