Four years ago was the last time the Smith-Cotton softball team recorded double digit wins. The Lady Tigers have combined for 11 wins the past two years, but some change has come to the program in the form of newly hired head coach Janeil Draffen.
“I’m getting to know the girls great,” Draffen said. “I spent time with some of them over the summer and they are ready to lead with me.”
The Lady Tigers played their first set of games Monday at the Camdenton jamboree, losing 4-2 to Marshfield, 13-0 to Camdenton and 12-0 to Iberia.
“We have a lot of stuff we have to work on,” Draffen said. “We have a very young team. There is still a lot to learn and still a lot to work to be done. We’re just taking one step at a time and trying to get a lot of repetition in.”
Smith-Cotton will turn to sophomores Sarah Bergman and Kaytlin Blatterman once again in the pitcher’s circle this season.
“They are basically working on keeping the ball low and the fundamentals of pitching,” Draffen said. “A pitcher’s work is never done.”
Sacred Heart transfer Emma Honn was expected to pitch for Smith-Cotton this season, but a knee injury will keep her out.
“She kind of helps us out during practice,” Draffen said. “She’ll travel with us and kind of have some managerial duties.”
Draffen graduated from Boonville High School in 2001 and was a pitcher. As a coach, she’s led Harrisburg to three district titles and a fourth place finish in the state tournament. She said that’s where she wants to eventually lead Smith-Cotton.
“My first goal with these girls is to have a conference championship,” she said. “This year would be great. Next year I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t be one of the top teams in conference.”
The tentative lineup in the field for the 2014 Lady Tigers includes four freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and a senior.
Sophomore Cheyenne Statler is being penciled into the outfield, but Draffen said senior Kaytlin VanSteenburgh will have strong consideration as well. Freshman McKenna Woolery and junior Mariah Voitl are expected to be the other outfielders.
“They can read the ball pretty well,” Draffen said of the outfielders. “They’ve got some good experience with that, it’s Just getting the right angle is our big thing.”
Freshmen Reagan Hockett, Haily Zaremba and Darby Christian, and senior Abby Perkins are being slotted into infield roles. Sophomore Madeline Kindle will work behind the plate.
They are pretty athletic girls that we have out there right now,” Draffen said. “Basically just getting rid of the ball quicker is a big focus we have right now in practice.”
Draffen said their positions on the field are pretty set, but she’s still working on the batting order.
“I’m still flipping around the lineup,” she said. “I’m trying to find a top one and two batters in the lineup. I don’t know who that’s going to be yet. All the way to the top three or four could be switching. I’m looking to have Maddie Kindle as our cleanup hitter. It’s very subject to change.”
With a young team comes a search for leadership.
“Darby Christian has done a good job at being a leader,” Draffen said. “I’m still kind of waiting for other people to shine in that area, but she’s been one of the big ones.”
Smith-Cotton gets the regular season started with the Boonville Tournament on Saturday. The Lady Tigers will play Pilot Grove at 10:30 a.m. and will play either Boonville or Russellville later in the day. The third place game is scheduled for 3 p.m. with the title game at 4:30 p.m.
“My dad started the program at Boonville High School, so he got that tournament going,” Draffen said. “They’ve always had good teams in it. We’re just getting the nerves out. Just getting some of the fundamentals and basic things down that we can hopefully execute and be better at is what I’m looking for.”