By ZACH BIRDSONG
Falling just one run short of a sectional berth last season, the Lady Wildcats will be aiming to put themselves back in the same spot, making it back to the Region 4-AAA Tournament when May comes around this year.
Tullahoma concluded the 2016 season with an overall record of 23-11 (10-5), the most program wins in school history. After finishing as the District 8-AAA runner-up, the Lady Wildcats saw their season end with a 2-1 road loss to Siegel in the region tournament.
Losing just four seniors from last season and core group of veteran players, THS Head Coach Gary Barfield said he expects to his team to once again be among the top teams in District 8-AAA.
“I think we will competitive and we should be in the thick of it at the end just like we always are. That’s our goal and we won’t settle for anything else,” Barfield said. “That’s what we shoot for every year to have that chance to play that Monday night in the region game and we see what happens.”
Tullahoma will hit the ground running this week, getting its season underway on Monday, stepping right into district play and following that with games every day this week. The Lady Wildcats open the 2017 campaign with a trip to Columbia Central for the season opener on Monday for a 6 p.m. start.
Following that Tullahoma will host Warren County in its home opener on Tuesday before heading to Manchester to clash with crosscounty rival Coffee County Central on Wednesday. First pitch of both games is scheduled for 7 p.m.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Tullahoma will travel to Hendersonville, taking part in the Commando Classic. A full schedule for that tournament was unavailable as of press time.
“I wanted the schedule this way just to play more games,” Barfield said. “The good thing is that we will play a few district games early and we aren’t at full strength and we will be by the time that this month is over. So these teams will see us not quite at full strength and that’s fine. Then we are going to go play some great teams in Hendersonville this weekend.”
After getting the preseason underway in January, Barfield said it’s been a good one for him and his players. Between great weather and so many returning veteran players, the coach said this preseason has been rather unique.
“This preseason has been different from any other with all of these returning starting players who have played a ton of softball. So it has made it easy on us as a coaching staff,” Barfield said.
“[The weather being good] it has been huge. We’ve only been inside one day that I can remember,” He added. “This week when we were supposed to play this [Tuesday a Benefit Jamboree], we just took the day off. The pitchers and catchers did their bullpen stuff, but we didn’t even practice.”
The Lady Wildcats held just one scrimmage during the preseason, competing in a Benefit Jamboree on Thursday for former Coffee County Central Head Coach Terry Floyd, who is battling cirrhosis. The Lady Raiders held a benefit of their own in Manchester, with them and Tullahoma each hosting a pair of games, with all of the proceeds raised going to Floyd and his family.
Taking on Moore County in the jamboree, the Lady Wildcats got solid pitching, not allowing a hit and needed just a run to secure a 1-0 win. The lone score came in the bottom of the first inning as Shyanne Sheffield led off the frame by drawing a walk, and later scoring on a passed ball.
Mo Edde, Madison Barnett and Jenna Jones all pitched for Tullahoma during the contest. Edde tossed two innings, striking out four batters. Barnett struck out three batters in her inning pitched, allowing a pair of walks. Jones hit a batter to lead off her inning, but retired the remainder of the Moore County players.
Edde will be the number-one starter for the Lady Wildcats, just like she has been her last three seasons. As a junior last season, she went 11-7 in her 18 starts while also notching a save. In 95 innings, she allowed just 70 hits, giving up 24 earned runs for an ERA of 1.77.
“I think it’s the competitiveness that makes her [Mo] so special,” Barfield said. “She’s not going to throw the ball 65 miles an hour, but she will run the ball in the low 60s. She just competes though and throws strikes and makes you beat her. That’s what she’s been doing.”
Jones, a sophomore, will also be in the rotation this season, however during the preseason she has been battling a hip injury. As a freshman last year, she put together a 4-0 record and in 23 innings pitched, allowed just 13 hits, allowing just three earned runs for an ERA of 0.91.
“When Jenna spins that ball and makes it move, she is tough to beat,” Barfield said. “She beat Stewarts Creek, a state tournament team a year ago. When she puts the spin on that ball and doesn’t try to overthrow, which is what we are trying to get her out of, she tries to throw the ball hard and she can’t, it’s a good contrast.
“You take the right-handers between Mo throwing that hard, heavy rise ball and then Jenna coming in there and spinning that thing with the off-speed pitch, it’s hard to hit.”
Barnett, a freshman, will also be in the rotation for the Lady Wildcats this season. The left-handed pitcher has impressed Barfield so far during the preseason.
“She [Barnett] threw a good inning tonight [Thursday] for us,” Barfield said. “She throws strikes and is very effective as a left hander and that ball moves.”
Another freshman will be seeing some starting time, as Keindra Seals is the final pitcher for the Lady Wildcats. Like Barnett, Barfield has been impressed with the right-handed pitcher.
“She [Seals] has improved a ton since we started in September. She throws strikes, changes speed and can locate it. It’s a blessing to have four pitchers right now who could go out there and throw strikes and get people out.”
Looking around at the other positions, most of the infield starters are returning players. Emma Byford will start the season behind the plate, catching, while Macy Ferrell will be at first base, Aly Barfield at second base, Sheffield at shortstop and Jenna Anderton at third base.
In the outfield, Leah Ross was moved to center field after playing left field last season. Jamie Stinson, a transfer student from Alabama, will be in right field. A battle between three players for the final left field spot is still in the works as Abagail Alcocer, Paige Walton and Kenzie Lenderman are all contending for the position.
While that position is still up for grabs, Barfield said his players are just ready for the season to get underway on Monday.
“We are ready to play. We’ve been ready to play for the last week and a half,” Barfield said. “At this point right now, we aren’t getting much of a practice workout right now. We are ready to play.”
A full schedule for the Lady Wildcats can be found here.