This past year, Sweetwater High School may have fielded its youngest softball team since the program started in the mid-1990s.
An astounding seven freshmen, plus three sophomores and three juniors, comprised the team’s opening roster and all seven freshmen started.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, Sweetwater finished with an 0-10 district record. But for the most part, the Lady Mustangs were quite competitive in one of the state’s toughest districts. And now the vast majority of those young players are back for another season that will start on Tuesday with a 6 p.m. game (varsity only) at Jim Ned.
Sweetwater’s second-year coach, Steve Roberts, said Friday he had already seen improvement on the team. That was a day before Sweetwater went out and beat Merkel 6-5 in a preseason scrimmage.
“They’ve been working very hard in the offseason,” he said. “They picked up almost where they left off at the end of last year. They’re more mentally tough.”
Many of the athletes also saw significant playing time on the varsity during either volleyball or basketball season or both, Roberts said.
As for still having eight sophomores and only two seniors on the 2011 team, Roberts hopes youth is a non-factor when district begins due to a tough non-district schedule. He points out, for example, that only three of the 14 teams at the Crane tournament starting Thursday didn’t make the playoffs last year. “I don’t see a weak sister on the schedule,” he said. “The kids understand how demanding it’s going to be.”
And though six returning players — sophomores Suede Shirley, Kelsi Crosson, Kendra Crosson and Jerren Villa, junior Alicia Finn and senior Taylor McKoy — earned at least all-district honorable mention, Sweetwater is hungry for more success. “We’ve made adjustments and cut down on mental errors,” Roberts said. “But we’ll have to do as well or better to earn the honors we won again.”
Sweetwater has experi-enced players at all nine positions. The infield will include Shirley at short-stop, Finn at first base, Angela Garza at second and Loni Mendez at third, and McKoy and Villa will also play the infield. Both Cros-sons, Jackie Carey, Maty Montgomery and Morgan Runge are in the outfield while both Keyli Turner and Villa will be used at catcher. On the mound will be McKoy, Montgomery, Kelsi Crosson and Finn, with Kinsey Browning serving as a utility player.
Montgomery, Finn and Crosson all pitched in the team’s scrimmage against Merkel, recording 13 strike-outs. Garza, Shirley and Kendra Crosson had two hits and Villa and Finn one. Crosson and Finn hit triples and Villa and Shirley doubled. Garza and Finn were also credited with RBIs.