Last season, the Liberty County High School softball team went 9-15 overall and 4-4 in Region 3A-AAAA, but also had a lot of young, up-and-coming talent.
This year, those younger players are ready to take the lead, and the Lady Panthers no longer have to contend with sub-region play. Liberty coach Jerome Standard said his squad can do good things this season, but the new region opponents aren’t cakewalks.
The Lady Panthers are without third baseman Meagan Folker, pitcher and shortstop Victoria Anthony and outfielders Alyssa Dennis and Taensa Rariden. However, Standard has several solid performers who saw plenty of varsity time last season. Expected to return are Haley Spencer, Kathryn Carter, Riley Davis Cassidy Collum Rachel Smith, Diamond Richardson and Kaleigh Fisher.
“My expectation for right now is that this team is better than average … we have a big core remaining … we graduated four seniors and we are going to miss each one of them … but we have our battery returning and the four kids that run that battery,” he said, talking about pitchers Carter and Fisher and catchers Collum and Smith. “We have more depth in our battery than any other position on the field.”
Former Lady Panther Diamond Richardson, also returning this season, missed all of last season after an injury during her sophomore season. Standard said he anticipates one or two girls will be ready to move up from the junior-varsity level, and the team welcomes a newcomer in former Richmond Hill player Taylor Ryan.
“Most of these kids are very versatile and most can play just about anywhere on the field, and that is a coach’s dream … to have kids that can move around,” he said.
Richardson, a senior, and Carter, a junior, will be the team captains this season.
“They are not the only leaders we have on this team,” Standard said. “We have a lot of kids who lead by example and lead by their work ethic … we have a lot of positive things going on.”
Fisher, a sophomore, had a stellar season last year, pitching 64 2/3 innings and tossing 43 strikeouts. Carter pitched 74 innings with 71 strikeouts, but gave everyone a brief scare when she injured her knee during basketball season. All seems to be healing well, though, as Carter said she is ready for the season
“She is cleared by a doctor, and we are taking baby steps out here … she seems to be doing really well, and as far as pitching goes, she is doing extremely well,” the coach said.
Fisher, Carter and Smith led the team in hits last year with 27, 25 and 24, respectively. Fisher had 17 RBIs with a triple and six doubles. Carter had eight RBIs, three triples and four doubles. Smith had five RBIs and two doubles.
While the Lady Panthers have early Region 3-AAAA matchups against Burke (doubleheader on Aug. 28) and Thomson (Sept. 13), the remainder of their region games are the last six games of the season schedule.
“It is my hope that the region championship will be decided the last week of the season,” Standard said.
If his plan pans out, the region title will be played against Wayne County. The Lady Panthers host the Lady Jackets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7, and then travel to Jesup on Thursday, Oct. 9, to close the season at Wayne County.
The coach said things look good for the JV team this year, too, with developing eighth-graders who play well enough to be considered for varsity positions in the near future.