(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Last season ended, undoubtedly, in disappointment.
Going into the Class 4, District 1 tournament as the No. 3 seed just a year ago, the Sikeston Lady Bulldog softball team looked to be in prime position to make a little noise within the tournament for the first time in recent years as a formidable threat.
The Cape Central Lady Tigers, however, had other ideas.
"I think we may have gotten our heads a little too high in the clouds," Sikeston senior Sydney Davied said. "We didn't play the kind of ball we can play."
Cape Central defeated the Lady Bulldogs 4-1 in the first round wiping away those hopes at a coveted district title.
The Lady Bulldogs remember that day vividly. They hope to use that as motivation throughout the upcoming 2010 season.
"Our expectations are set pretty high," Sikeston head coach Tiffany Morgan said about the outlook of the season. "I have a bunch of returning seniors that have a lot of experience. Those senior girls really want that district championship and many of them have worked very hard so far this year.
"They seem really focused for being seniors. They're ready."
Two of those seniors are Davied and Sikeston's No. 1 starter, Sarah Hopson. Hopson has been Morgan's starting pitcher ever since "Hoppy's" freshman year. Davied, after pitching 200 innings of summer league ball behind her, will try and help fill the role of No. 2 behind Hopson.
"Having me and Sydney will be great," said Hopson. "I know Sydney worked on it a lot this summer and I pitched a lot this summer so, having both of us should help out a lot.
"I think we'll do just fine as long as we keep working hard."
Both pitchers offer something different while in the circle. Hopson, who finished the regular season with a rock-bottom ERA of 0.83, is considered the hurler with a riseball mixed in between. Davied features more off speed pitches, including one pitch that Morgan said is hard to rival.
"Just having two different styles of pitchers I think will help us a bunch," Morgan said. "I think we'll be able to switch out pitchers and the other team won't be able to see Sarah for all seven innings. Sydney pitching this summer has really boosted her confidence and when she has that on the mound, she can throw with the best of 'em.
"Her change up is probably the best I've seen in this area."
Pitching will be the Lady Bulldogs' strong point this year. Hitting is still being worked on.
Wanting to improve in the offensive department, Sikeston maneuvered their practice schedule to feature just hitting drills and simulations.
"Practices are a little different this year, actually," said Hopson. "One day we'll do defense and the next day we'll do completely, just hitting. It's helped us a lot. Coach can work with us individually with what we need to work on. We have batting practice almost every single night and every girl here has already done so much better every time they hit.
"We'll all have to work on it but, I think it's something that will work itself out in time."
Sikeston lost four seniors from last year's squad to graduation: Krystal Henson, Mary Deason, Kelsie Cooper and Jamie Reed. Two of the seniors, Henson and Deason, were considered the Lady Bulldogs' strongest hitters which is a void they know they'll have to fill.
"Hitting wise, we're getting more confident on filling the big spots left by Krystal (Henson) and Mary (Deason)," said Morgan. "We're getting there. It's a day-by-day process. Last week was killer with the heat but the girls were still out here and wanted to work hard because they know what they want.
"I think once we get going, I think we'll be stronger than I realized," Morgan said.
With eight seniors on this year's team, Morgan will be expecting some output from freshman and sophomores. Sydney King and Madison Chaney were just a few of those listed that will be called upon.
"We have some big spots to fill," Morgan said, "but, everyday we are more and more confident in those spots. A bunch of them, once they start getting used to hitting, I think will be able to help us out."
With two starting pitchers, a focus on improving the offense and young talent coming up, the Lady Bulldogs are looking to rinse that bad taste out of their mouths left from last year's letdown. A certain piece of hardware would help erase that memory.
"I really would like to win districts this year," Davied said. "Last year, I thought we had a really good chance and we didn't get it done. That's really my goal. It's my last year to play for Sikeston High School and I want to win.
"That's what we're going to do."