Sterlington Softball Preview
Returning eight starters from a team which came tantalizingly close to winning its first state championship, the Sterlington Lady Panthers enter their first season in Class 3A with a senior-laden squad.
Sterlington lost only one senior, center fielder Sydnee Davis, from last year's 23-13 team which dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to Mangham in the Class 2A state championship game.
Making the jump in classification, the road back to Sulphur is certain to be more challenging this time around.
"It's going to be a lot tougher than what we have faced playoff-wise in 2A," second-year coach Jennifer Hickman acknowledged. "Caldwell and Jena are going to be tough in our area. Brusly is always tough, and North Vermilion is the defending state champion."
A pair of seniors, left-hander Tanner Wilson and right-hander Breanna Sylvestri anchor the pitching staff. Wilson was 7-5 with two saves and a 2.20 earned run average while Sylvestri posted an 8-8 record with two saves and a 2.66 ERA in 2017. Freshman righty Emarie Adams has yet to report due to the soccer playoffs.
"Bre and Tanner are working hard to be prepared and ready," Hickman said. "We don't have a dominant third arm this year. Emarie is going to get there, but she is going to need a little time."
Rebekah Wood (.286, 14 RBI) returns behind the plate. A former infielder, Wood made a solid transition to catcher last spring. Sophomore Hannah Jerkins is the backup.
"Rebekah does a good job," Hickman said. "The things she has worked so hard on during the offseason are starting to pay off. She made a diving catch behind the plate in one of our scrimmages, and she's been working hard on her snap throws and throw downs. I am looking for her to be much stronger behind the plate this year."
The infield returns intact with senior Amber Parnell (.299, 21 RBI) at first base, sophomore Carli Wilson (.350, 24 games) at second, senior Cathryn Trichell at third and sophomore K.B. Briley at shortstop.
Trichell and Briley are the big bats in the middle of the lineup. As a junior, Trichell hit .358 with a .409 on base percentage and a .642 slugging clip with eight home runs and 39 RBI. Briley slashed .402/.496/.591 with a home run, 12 doubles and two triples while matching Trichell's 39 RBI.
Senior Jada Smith is the left fielder with Sylvestri and Wilson taking over for Davis in center. ULM signee Carson Lyon (.269, 3 HRs, 23 RBI) returns to the outfield after spending time at second base last season. Hickman is looking for Lyon to continue the momentum from a huge State Tournament.
"I really expect Carson Lyon to step up and give us another big bat to go with Cathryn and K.B.," Hickman said. "So far, in our scrimmage games, she's hit a grand slam and a three-run shot."
Sylvestri, an LSU Alexandria signee, and Smith have been converted into slappers.
"We have made Bre and Jada slappers to see if we can take more advantage of their speed," Hickman said. "Both of them have transitioned really well."
Also available are sophomore infielder Rachel Wisecarver and freshman outfielder Chesnie Daigle.
Juniors Kaela Mullins and Jayla Stewart will report after basketball season. Mullins started as a freshman, but did not play last season.
"Obviously, Kaela Mullins' athleticism is going to be a good addition for the team," Hickman said. "She's strong, powerful and fast."
Sterlington has scrimmaged West Ouachita, and played Calvary Baptist and Ouachita in the umpire's challenge.
"We hit the ball well against West Ouachita and we competed very well with Calvary Baptist," Hickman said. "Ouachita got away from us after awhile."
Two points of emphasis during preseason practice have been executing with runners in scoring position and base running.
"We left too many people on base last year, so we are really looking to cut down on that," Hickman said. "That is something we have really stressed in practice time. We have taken a lot of live pitching. We scored 10 runs on West Ouachita and didn't leave many people on base, so hopefully we're getting somewhere."
Throughout her coaching career at Bastrop and Sterlington, Hickman's teams have been known for their aggressive base running. Last year was no exception as the Lady Panthers stole 72 bases in 89 attempts for an .809 success rate. Don't expect a change in philosophy from Hickman any time soon.
"We are going to be very aggressive on the bases," Hickman said. "We made several outs on the bases during the scrimmages, but we were being aggressive."
With an experienced team coming off of a successful season, Hickman is confident the Lady Panthers can handle the move into 3A.
"This team has been to the State Tournament and been in the state championship game," Hickman said. "I really expect them to do some big things in their first year in 3A. They shouldn't be nervous about anything, but it's going to take everybody. We have 16 players, and it's going to take all of them."