(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- The New Madrid County Central softball team is no stranger to winning. Coming off of a 17-0 season, the Lady Eagles have perfection in mind once again as they enter the 2011 season.
"Just like every season, we go into it trying to go undefeated and win as many games as possible," NMCC coach Steve Rogers said. "We have seven starters coming back with one of the better pitchers in the area and we feel we have another good chance to make another good run at it."
NMCC has won 27 games in-a-row and are chasing the school record of 50-consecutive wins. A major part of their push is pitcher Kelly Robey. The senior, who has signed to play softball at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., was 15-0 last season and has helped lead the Lady Eagles to a 44-4 record the last three seasons.
"Our goal is to go undefeated again," Robey said. "My sister had two undefeated seasons and that's what my goal is for our team this year."
Robey has dominated area hitters for the last three years, compiling a 38-3 record. In 92 innings last year she struck out 227 batters with a 65 mph fastball that is equivalent to a 95 mph fastball in baseball. She also throws a curveball that breaks close to two feet as well.
"In my mind she's the premiere player in the area," Rogers said. "Teams know when she is on the hill they are going up against the best so we get everybody's 'A' game and that's the way we like it. We've got to play our best."
Robey will facing a couple changes this year, the first being the pitching distance moved back to 43 feet from 40 feet.
"Kelly's been throwing summer ball for the last two years from 43 feet so it's not going to be a big adjustment," Rogers said. "The girls who had trouble throwing strikes from 40 feet are going to have even more trouble throwing them from 43."
The senior pitcher will also be throwing to a different catcher, as her previous catcher, Shelby Lawrence, graduated last spring. However, Rogers said sophomore Nikki Martin has stepped right into the roll.
"(Nikki) caught all summer and is doing a real good job handling Kelly," Rogers said. "She's catching her every day and we are expecting her to shoulder the load. I think she will step up and do a good job for us."
Robey said she has been pleased with how Martin has played so far.
"She is actually doing really good," Robey said. "Better than what anybody expected because she hadn't caught me very much, but we are very proud of Nikki right now."
Backing up Robey will be sophomore Michaela Townsend, who saw action last year as a freshman and is expected to see time on the mound this year.
Offensively, Robey will anchor a lineup that is made up of fellow seniors Samantha Hunter and Courtney Masterson along with a wealth of younger talent.
"Dallas Campbell, who started for us as a freshman last year, hit over .400 and we are expecting big things out of her again this year," Rogers said. "Meredith Stanley had a good year for us as a freshman and she'll be our starting first baseman as a sophomore and we are expecting big things out of Sara Ash who played some in left field last year.
"We feel like we are going to have a better offensive team than we did last year because of the experience and our good speed. We've been blessed with girls that can run and like to steal bases and with the mound being moved back three feet it should enhance our basestealing even more."
NMCC also has a group of freshman coming in that will be counted on to fill roles while building for the future.
"The reason I think we are good is we are always building next year's team this year," Rogers said. "The hardest thing about this is making the team. Once you've made the team, you are going to get into some games."
And once you are on the team, Robey said it becomes like a family.
"(Playing softball at NMCC) has been the best thing that has probably ever happened to me," Robey said. "Both my sisters played here and it feels like home here. When I go and play for anybody else I am playing for just another team, but here I feel like I am playing with a family."
NMCC will open the season on March 22 when they travel to Risco to take on the Lady Tigers.