Last year, the St. James softball team came into the season flying under the radar. Most of their roster had very little varsity experience and it took the Lady Tigers a few weeks to get going. St. James was 14-11 in the regular season last year before a first round exit in Districts. The Lady Tigers return a huge portion of their varsity roster in 2018 and head coach Brad Purvis thinks that will help St. James pick up where they left off last season.
"As always, I have high expectations for our players and our program. We had a little bit of success last year and we return a lot of experience this year. Those are the girls that we're going to look to," said coach Purvis. "Those girls have been there, done that in situations and they'll take their prior experience and knowledge and help our younger girls that are coming up.
"My expectation is that we pick up where we left off last year," continued the Lady Tiger head coach. "It doesn't matter who we've lost from last year, who's next? And that's what we're looking forward to."
One of the biggest losses from last season's team was Kayla Hamilton, who pitched just about every game for St. James last season. Coach Purvis is still locking down how the Lady Tigers will approach pitching this season, but he thinks he has some strong candidates to pitch a lot of innings.
"It very well could be a platoon to pitching," said Purvis. "Audrey Marcee and McKenzie Brennan are probably the top two. Her freshman year (Brennan) was our primary pitcher. But we'll look to those two to probably carry us for most of the season."
Outside of the pitching circle, St. James brings a ton of experience back. Behind they plate they have senior catcher Mikaela Donnelly, while at shortstop they'll have another big time senior leader in Hunter Pitts. Other key returners include more seniors with Baylee Ambrose and Shelby Quick in the outfield, Alyssa Dorris at first base and Scout Paulus, who was primarily a designated hitter last season, but should see some time in the field. That leaves pretty much three main holes for the Lady Tigers at second, third and in the left field and all three spots should have some competition.
"We've really got three spots that will have a new look to them, but as I always tell the girls, don't get too comfortable, because every spot is open at the start of the year," said coach Purvis. "At second base it could be Scout Paulus or Emily Butts, at third base, Rachel Lucas, who will be a senior and in the outfield Abigail Walton and McKenzie Brennan will probably push for that spot."
With a few new faces on the varsity, the Lady Tigers will lead on some great seniors for both their skills on the field and their leadership ability. Donnelly has been a huge bat for St. James throughout her career and as the catcher, she serves as an important leader on the field.
"The biggest growth I've seen out of Mikaela has been with the leadership," said coach Purvis. "I think this being her senior year and her being behind the plate, we're going to rely on her a lot. I think she knows that, we've had those conversations and I think she's ready to take the next step."
Pitts will also be extremely important for St. James, especially with new starters on either side of her on the infield. She is one of the most experienced players on the team and will be a big key for St. James this year.
"(Pitts) is going to be the leader of the infield," said the Lady Tiger head coach. "She brings the experience. Being a starter since her freshman year, she's been in all kinds of situations, she's played with a variety of players as well. What she brings most is that I think she brings a calming presence. When things start to go awry, she has that knack to bring people together, calm them down and get them back on track."
In the outfield, Quick and Ambrose stepped up to fill important roles in the outfield and they should both continue that trend as they enter their senior season.
"I truly believe you have leaders on the infield and leaders in the outfield. Those two, we're going to lean on a lot as well in the outfield," said coach Purvis. "With Shelby, we're probably going to look for her to do more things this year, especially offensively. I think she's ready for that, she's prepared herself and worked hard at it. Baylee as well. Baylee was an All-Conference kid for us last year, really stepped up her game and I think she'll continue. I think their hard work with the other outfielders, it gives them a good model."
As St. James gears up for the season, coach Purvis thinks defense could be one of their biggest assets despite having three new starters in their lineup.
"Right now, I think it could be defensively," said coach Purvis on the team's biggest strength. "I think defensively, that's going to be our strength and then pitching. Those two kind of coincide together. We always stress to our pitchers to throw strikes and use the defense, that's what they're there for."
The Lady Tigers were originally set to host their jamboree on Saturday, but it was cancelled due to the weather that came in on Friday night. They will now host the jamboree on Tuesday, Aug. 21, before playing in the New Haven Tournament to open their season on Saturday, Aug. 25.