The best might be yet to come
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
MONTGOMERY – Following their exits from the state tournament last week, both Hartselle coach Shane Alexander and Danville coach Holly Little echoed a similar theme.
"The future is bright; we've got some good young players," Alexander said.
"It was a great experience for our young team and it's something we can build on next year," Little said.
Although Hartselle finished third and Danville tied for seventh, the two teams have much in common. Both are loaded with young players who will be back next year, including intact pitching staffs. Each has a tradition of making the trip to Montgomery – Hartselle has three state titles and this was Danville's second trip to the state tournament in the last three seasons – and each feels the experience this season will pay off dividends further down the road.
And there's little reason to think otherwise.
Danville loses just two seniors – Charleston Wilson and Haley Hensley – and Hartselle three – Shanice Johnson, Ashley Womack and Lindsay Robinson. Although their accomplishments and abilities will be missed, the fact both Hartselle and Danville are returning so many players bodes well for the programs' immediate futures.
Highlighting the returning players for Hartselle is a pair of pitchers who will be seniors next season in Breanna Segars and Mary Curtis. The two combined to allow just three runs in the five games Hartselle played in Montgomery.
Also returning next season is power bat Kayla Orr, whose two home runs at Montgomery were an offensive boost for the low-scoring Lady Tigers. Speedy leadoff hitters Kristy Pevahouse and Catie Keel, who will be a junior and senior respectively, are also returning.
For Danville, ace pitcher Brittany Atkins will be just a junior in 2007, while Kristin Thompson and Kristen Sparkman will fill in the rotation as a sophomore and senior, respectively. And six of Danville's eight defensive players will be returning.
All that returning talent comes with a caveat, however. Alexander was quick to point out that although his team is returning a bevy of talent in 2007, the thing that might be missed the most is the chemistry his team had. That chemistry is something he credits' primarily to the leadership of the Lady Tigers' three seniors in 2006.
"That's the challenge every year," he said. "The challenge for next year's seniors is to find that chemistry and camaraderie again. If we can do that, we'll be all right."
It would also be unfair to overlook the considerable achievements of these five seniors. Wilson and Robinson were their team's catchers, and that is perhaps the position most difficult to replace because of the amount of responsibility. Catchers not only see the most contact in games, but they have to call balls and strikes and be ready at a moment's notice to pounce on loose balls. A pitcher-and-catcher relationship is key to any successful softball team and both Wilson and Robinson will be difficult to replace.
Johnson was a solid bat and defensive first baseman for Hartselle, and several times bailed out her teammates by stretching to catch errant throws. Hensley was a gifted right fielder and Womack provided strong depth off the bench for her team.
But every team loses seniors at the end of each season, and the programs that can call themselves elite are the ones who absorb their losses and just keep chugging on. It is not too arrogant to suggest both Danville and Hartselle should be back in Montgomery next year, and both should have a great chance to improve on their showings at the 2007 state tournament.