SIKESTON - The Heartland Pride softball team finished their 2010 season with an impressive record with numerous local talents who made a few steps towards their own individual futures.
The Pride ended their season with a 36-16-1 record while competing in tournaments where they sometimes faced teams who were primarily made up of prospective freshmen in college.
"I was extremely proud of the girls," Pride coach Terry McLard said. "All in all, they did a great job."
The Pride traveled to the likes of Kirkwood, Perryville, Marion, Ill. and also had a few tournaments in Cape Girardeau. However, their biggest, and perhaps, most impressive display was at Murphysboro, Tenn., which was a huge college exposure tournament with 64 teams in their same age group of 17 and 18-year-olds.
Their squad went 3-3 in their end-of-the-year tournament where they played two games a day. They allowed just 13 runs against their pitching and pounded out 27 runs against their opposition. Two of their six games were against teams where the entire roster were freshman going into college this year.
A few of the Pride members themselves had actually been approached and invited to visit college campuses after scouts had seen them play.
"To put my high school kids against that and have them compete as well as they did was great," said McLard. "That was a neat tournament."
Members of the pride come from all over the Southeast Missouri region. Sikeston, New Madrid, Kelly, Dexter, Cape Girardeau and Portageville are just to name a few.
McLard, who has been a part of the Heartland Pride team for 15 years and has also been an assistant coach at Saxony Lutheran High School for four years, used his time and experience throughout the region to hand-pick this group of talented young players.
"I hand-picked this group and, honestly, they're pretty equal," McLard said. "They're a really good, strong team that plays together. They bonded together really quickly. The love of the game that they share made that happen."
Sikeston pitcher Sarah Hopson as well as New Madrid County Central pitcher Kelly Robey and Dexter catcher and first baseman Alec Jackson were big contributors to the Pride this year, according to McLard.
"Kelley Robey is just phenomenal," he said. "Alec Jackson was amazing just doing what she did behind the plate and at first base. Our shortstop Kaylee Boston from Shawnee High School, should be playing Division I ball, she's going to be a senior this year, but she should be approached by a Division I school."
Hopson, who was basically a relief pitcher, had an ERA of under 1.00. "She did really well on the mound for us," said McLard. "She hit a number of home runs during the season, too. Her bat just came alive."
Overall, McLard said, with the talent he had this year his roster was fairly balanced which made it easy for him to coach.
"Honestly, they were all pretty close," he said. "That's what made it so nice to coach. Really, you just put them on the field and I'd throw a tid-bit in here or there but, otherwise, they were just playing. They knew what to do."
The sheer number of games that his girls played in this year is sure to help those still in high school. Not to mention, the competition they saw throughout the summer.
"It definitely helps the future high school programs," said McLard. "Just the number of games we play, that helps. The competition that we see, they're not going to see that kind of competition in high school."
The Heartland Pride will have all but three girls possibly returning for next year, which almost assuredly gives the Pride a leg up on next season with a possible World Series appearance in the mix.
"They will be even stronger next year," McLard said. "We haven't planned our season for next year, but there's a possibility that we may take them down to the World Series in Panama City next year. We're not sure yet.
"I just had a blast. This is the first year where I didn't have a kid of my own playing and I'm going to continue doing it. I love the sport."