Bradwell opens its softball season at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday by hosting Ware County.
The Lady Tigers graduated seven of their starters this past May, leaving coach Sharyl Eastlake with four returning seniors and a slew of younger players. Last year’s Tigers finished 9-14 overall and 3-7 in the region, making the first round of the playoffs before losing in a best-of-three series against Effingham County.
Chels Shutts, Jessica Puckett, Kasey Smith and Heather Rego are the Lady Tigers’ senior players, and Eastlake said they are the core of the team and have exemplified leadership by example.
“They’ve been coaching the younger players and correcting the things they do,” Eastlake said. “It’s good to see that coming from your peers and not just your coaches.”
Eastlake will field two juniors. Kaylee Taylor has never played softball before, but is learning to be one of the team’s catchers. The other junior is former Liberty County High School player Jakaria Fleming, who moved during the summer and will help the Lady Tigers in the outfield.
Five sophomores and four freshmen round out the remainder of the varsity team. Some of the younger players will overlap and join the 10 eighth-graders Eastlake has for her junior-varsity squad.
Incoming sophomore MacKenzie Stewart saw a lot of varsity action last season and returns as the Lady Tigers’ main pitcher for the upcoming year. Freshman Tamia Johnson has worked all summer with Lady Tigers pitching coach Misty Eastlake and will lead the JV on the mound, as well as fill spots for the infield and outfield on the varsity squad.
Eighth-grader Madison Winn has impressed the Lady Tiger coaching staff and will fill in the pitching rotation on the JV squad as well.
Sharyl Eastlake said the coaching staff spoke with the eighth-graders, letting them know they were eligible to play at the JV level of high school programs. The coach said many of the young players were not aware they could, and she thinks making the players and parents aware led to an increase in participants over the summer.
“We probably had 55 girls in total out for conditioning for the summer, and then when we got down to making cuts, we had 35 that stayed … and we still have girls that are coming out.”
Eastlake said there still is time to come out and participate in team activities especially potential pitchers and catchers.
Having such a young team will present a big challenge for the Lady Tigers, who open against last year’s Region 3B-AAAAA second place team, Ware County. The girls also will play Aug. 16-17 at the Tattnall County Warrior Blast, where the girls will face Wheeler, New Hampstead, Appling County, Southeast Bulloch and Portal.
“They should be five good games,” she said. “And it will definitely show the younger girls what we are up against the rest of the season and when we come back home to practice … it shows them what they have to do and how tough they have to be.”