JACKSON County has shouldered its share of personnel losses since winning 25 games last fall, but this year’s Panther softball team brings its own strengths to the table this year.
“We’re very versatile,” said second-year coach Chessie Laird, whose team graduated five seniors last year. “We’re going to have a small core group again — probably about 11 or 12 players — but they’re so versatile. We could still have three or four lineups. It’s a great situation to be in.”
This year’s lineup will feature Jessica Baker at first, Petyon Sorrells or Hattie Sewell at second, Mason Garland at shortstop, Andrea Leford at first or third and Victoria Fontana in centerfield.
Alyssa Dasher has moved from the infield to the outfield, where she’ll play either left or right field. Cassie Satterfield or Shelton Kendrix could figure into the outfield plans as well. Kendrix or junior Jordan Evans will play catcher, replacing all-state performer Madison Whitmire who transferred to Flowery Branch.
Outfielder Victoria Woods could miss the entire season due to shoulder surgery.
Jackson County, which also lost a lot of its pitching from last year, will look to Baker, Sorrells and Madi Pecht in the pitcher’s circle.
Offensively, the Panthers lose Whitmire’s pop (15 home runs) in the middle in the lineup. They’ll now look to Baker — a second-team all-region selection — and Garland, among others to spark the team. Laird also noted that Kendrix “has done a great job during the summer” at the plate.
Laird pointed to team speed as one of Jackson County’s biggest weapons.
“We’re very fast this year at the top of the lineup,” Laird said. “I feel like we could really do some damage if we can get ahead. That’s what we wanted to do last year was attack early and get some runs on the board. I feel like this year we’re just as fast, if not faster.”
Life in region play will not get any easier.
Jackson County moves up to Region 8-AAA, along with four other teams from the old 8-AA. They’ll join defending Class AAA state champion Oconee County (38-2 last year) along with Franklin County and Morgan County. Under the region structure, teams will only play each other once. Jackson County will host the region tournament this year at West Jackson Park.
“It’s exciting,” Laird said of the move to 8-AAA. “We’re excited to move up to triple-A. I think that this group of girls that we have, we’re very focused, we’re very driven. So I think that knowing that we only play each team from our region one time, that’s really going to put that much more pressure, that much more emphasis on taking it game by game.”
Jackson County also hasn’t forgotten about missing out on the state postseason last year.
“We fell one game short of going to the state playoffs last year,” Laird said. “So I think that’s definitely on the radar. We want to go to state, however we have to get there … We have to take care of business in the season, so that’s what we’re going to be focusing on.”
The coach pointed to a recent summer league trip to North Georgia College, which she said has really ignited the Panthers. The team got to play on the field and tour the campus.
“I think that really wanted to make them want to jump into this season,” Laird said. “They’ve been focusing really hard on just getting better and focusing on our weaknesses.”