“The biggest thing is that you can’t afford to take as many risks on the basepaths,” Leonard said. “Seventy-five percent of your injuries occur in the act of sliding. We will have to manage our team very smartly. We are going to take maybe a few less risks than other teams. We may not be able to do what we normally would do in a game. Those are the biggest challenges trying to maintain a healthy squad.”
Freshmen Erin Leonard and Hannah Heath will be the primary pitchers for the Lady Lions, with McKinney available for some spot duty as well.
Christian Heritage opens its season with a pair of games today at Harlem High School’s tournament, which continues on Saturday.
Solid pitching and defense should be considered a fast-pitch softball coach’s dream, especially in the debut season for the man in charge.
At Coahulla Creek, that man is first-year head coach Josh Swiney, who spent the past two years as an assistant and knows where the strengths lie for this year’s Lady Colts.
“We are blessed this year with three good pitchers who we are expecting big things from, along with two girls who are really solid behind the plate,” Swiney said.
As senior starting pitcher Shelbe Dilbeck goes, so will the Lady Colts. Dilbeck was a mainstay last season, collecting nine wins and an ERA of 3.05.
“She has been the workhorse of our pitching staff for the last two years,” Swiney said. “She is an awesome leader who just goes out there and plays. She’s a quiet leader with a relentless work ethic.”
That leadership, coupled with the arm of senior Erin Harden, who recently transferred from Christian Heritage, should give the Lady Colts a consistent one-two punch. Sophomore Nikki Hollis, a steady reliever last season, will round out the staff.
Starting at catcher is third-year starter Emily Banks, a junior who led the team in hitting the past two seasons, posting a .354 average with five doubles and 16 RBIs last year. Freshman Sydney Ross will also see time behind the plate and provides a strong arm and defensive presence in reserve, Swiney said.
Three-year starters LaSha Hedden and Kala Franks, along with senior first baseman Allie Thompson — who had the team’s only home run last season and was second in RBIs with 15 — will round out the infield. Senior outfielder Haley Reece, who hit .303 last season, provides speed and a good arm, Swiney said.
Coahulla Creek, which went 11-18 in 2012 under Rhett Parrott’s guidance, enters its third year of competition looking for its first trip to state. The team opens the season at home against Northwest at 5:55 p.m. on Monday.
“They give me everything they’ve got in everything they do,” Swiney said. “It has been amazing to watch them give that effort, whether it be in batting practice, baserunning drills or taking infield. As a coach, I cannot ask for more than that.”