Kelly returns a solid group of seniors who have experienced the pinnacle in softball with a state title in Class 2 as sophomores in 2004. Now, this hungry group of underclassmen look to impress the faithful Lady Hawks' fans once again.
Head coach Rhonda Ratledge is at the helm of a juggernaut in softball. The Lady Hawks have won district titles in 19 of the last 20 years and four in a row.
Ratledge has an overall record of 278-71 and is expecting big things for her 2006 squad.
"We all want to get back to state," said Ratledge. "The girls that are seniors now experienced the thrill of a championship and every year we want to strive for that. I believe we have a good group of players and we expect to make another run at the championship this season."
Last season, Kelly lost to the eventual runner-up in Class 2, Strafford, 4-2 in sectional action. That first round loss still weighs on the minds of the coaches and players at Kelly.
"We are real excited heading into the season," said Ratledge. "We had a tough loss to Strafford last season and the girls haven't forgot the feeling of losing. We have a solid group of seniors and our underclassmen are stepping up in practice. We have a bad taste in our mouths from last year and we are ready to get going."
The Lady Hawks return five seniors from last year's 19-11 squad and will be counted on for leadership from a team that features one junior, five sophomores and two freshmen.
Senior first baseman Kailie Hughes is the team's leading hitter and will be counted on to pitch as well. Hughes led the Lady Hawks with a .448 batting average, was third on the team with 30 hits and drove in 11 runs.
In addition to her bat, Hughes went 5-6 on the mound last season with 2.32 earned run average.
Brittany Ponder will hold down third base after spending the last two seasons at second base. The athletic senior led Kelly last year with 39 hits, 31 runs, 18 steals and five doubles. Ponder hit .390 with 10 RBIs on the season.
Summer Proctor brings talent and experience behind the plate for the Lady Hawks. Proctor drove in 11 runs last season and had seven steals. Offense is secondary to the main contributions the senior catcher brings to the club.
"Summer has a lot of experience behind the plate and that is a settling influence for the team," said Ratledge. "She is an extremely smart player who is always talking to the players keeping everybody involved in the action."
Junior Sarah Ruff is a defensive gem for Kelly in centerfield according to Ratledge.
"Sarah could alone play outfield for us," said Ratledge. "She is extremely quick and can get to just about anything in the outfield."
Sophomore Casey Kern will pitch on the days Hughes is on first base for Kelly. Last season Kern went 11-4 with a 2.49 ERA and had 14 complete games. When Hughes is on the rubber, Kern will fill in nicely at first. Kern had 13 RBIs last season for the Lady Hawks.
Shortstop Katee Moore had a great season as a freshman last year and even bigger things are expected this campaign.
"Katee is an outstanding player," said Ratledge. "I can't say enough good things about her. She does what is expected of her and is just a strong competitor in the field."
Last season Moore batted .321 with 25 runs scored and 12 steals. According to Ratledge, Moore set a single season Kelly record for assists in a season last year at her shortstop position.
Kelly will have a freshman at second base in London Backfisch who will bring speed to the position and a solid glove.
Filling out the corner outfield positions for the Lady Hawks will be seniors Ashley and Kaitlin Vetter, who will platoon in right field. Sophomore Ashley Flahardy has won the left field position with solid range and a good arm.
Kelly has a stacked schedule for a Class 2 team. The Lady Hawks will face Cape Central, Notre Dame, Sikeston, Jackson and Poplar Bluff all of which are higher classification teams.
In addition, Kelly is in three quality tournaments at Jackson, Notre Dame and Incarnate Word in St. Louis.
"We have to get up for the Jackson tournament because we see a lot of St. Louis teams and it is a good challenge," said Ratledge. "We have been to the Incarnate Word Tournament the last two years. The first year we won it and last year we finished in fourth place. This year, there are 24 teams in the field and I am excited to be playing the best."
Ratledge believes that East Prairie and East Carter County will be tough opponents in district play if the district stays the same as last season. There is a chance that MSHSAA will realign the districts in softball but at press time, no changes have been made.
Kelly will begin the season on Monday at East Carter County at 4 p.m. The first home game for the Lady Hawks will be on Aug. 31 against Cape Central at 4 p.m.