(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
BENTON -- Heading into the girls softball season, hopes are high for a young team of Kelly Lady Hawks. The squad begins action on Monday when it hosts East Carter County at 4 p.m.
Things will look a little different this season for head coach Rhonda Ratledge, whose squad went 25-7 overall in 2006 and reached the semifinal round of the MSHSAA Class 2 Girls Softball State Tournament. After all of that, the Lady Hawks are coming into the 2007 season with only one senior on the team.
"It's been a while since we've been a young team, with only one senior. These girls all know how to play ball effectively though," Ratledge said.
Though young, the Lady Hawks, look to have a pretty good returning squad. According to Ratledge, her freshmen class of softball players is right up there with the talent level of the juniors. Ratledge has a very positive outlook, and is ready for action to get underway.
Ratledge, who is in her 13th season as the softball coach at Kelly, knows what she's doing, Especially after posting a career record of 314-83. The key for Ratledge is to get the most production out of each player despite their level of talent.
The returning starters for the Lady Hawks are shortstop Katee Moore (junior), second baseman Londyn Backfisch (sophomore), center fielder Sarah Ruff (senior), and first baseman Casey Kern (junior).
"I'm hoping that these girls will lead us, and be key leaders," said Ratledge. "Everyone is a key player for the team."
When asked what game will be the No. 1 in Ratledge's mind, she replied, "All games are big games. Never take a team for granted. As soon as you let your guard down, you've got yourself a loss."
She added, "Of course, all of the big Class 4 teams we look forward to playing. With more teams joining the conference, it's hard to pick one big game."
"We start off with East Carter on Monday, and then take on Chaffee on Tuesday. We'll quickly see what we're made of, and what we have to work on," Ratledge said. "I've got a few girls with sore arms. I'll be getting back Casey Kern in a few weeks."
Ratledge is looking forward to her freshmen gaining experience at the fast-
paced high school level this season.
"I'd like for them to learn as much as they can this year, begin perfecting it toward the end and be ready for next year. More seniors doesn't mean more talent. I've had freshmen beat out a junior or senior for a spot before."
When it comes to grade level, and how old players are, it means nothing to Ratledge: "It's going to be their ability and how well they perform under pressure."
Kelly's pressure begins this week. The Lady Hawks have three games in the first week of the season, hosting East Carter on Monday and Chaffee on Tuesday before traveling to play at Malden on Thursday. All games are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.