The East Central Community College Lady Warrior softball team will open the 2020 season next Tuesday February 11 with a No. 15 national ranking in the first National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Softball Poll of the year.
All home games can be heard on WKOZ “Cruisin” 98.3 or watched via live stream video at www.eccc.edu/eccc-media. A complete roster and schedule can be found at www.ecccathletics.com.
First-year head coach Leigh White will have seven returning from last year’s team that finished 28-14 and with a No. 15 national ranking. The Lady Warriors advanced to the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges State Tournament as the No. 4 seed before being eliminated in two games.
East Central softball teams have qualified for postseason play the past 16 seasons, with five straight years finishing in the final NJCAA Softball Division II Top 20 Poll.
A native of Quitman, White joined the East Central program last July after 16 years at Pearl River Community College which included 10 straight seasons of postseason play and an MACJC State Championship in 2010.
White’s coaching philosophy is to develop the student-athlete as a whole person. “I believe in teaching young women to be successful on and off the field through discipline and structure within our program,” she said. “On the field we will play selflessly and have a Warrior mentality.”
White will rely on sophomore experience for the Lady Warriors to return to the state tournament in 2020.
Ten sophomores return from 2019. Among those are outfielder Olivia Houston (Northeast Rankin) who was named to the 2019 NJCAA All-Region 23 Softball Team after hitting .422 with 19 doubles, 14 stolen bases, and 38 RBI. She was errorless in the field with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Houston was also named MACJC Second Team All-State.
Three first-team MACJC All-State players are back, including infielder Hannah Dufault (Hurley, East Central), catcher Anna McNeer (Canton Academy), and infielder Kaylee Webb (Ruston, La.).
Dufault hit .348 on the season with 33 RBI and a team-leading nine home runs. McNeer hit .415 and led the team with 21 doubles and 58 RBI. She also hit eight home runs. Webb hit .407 and led the team in singles with 45, runs scored with 50, and stolen bases with 28.
Starting infielder Kailee Swindle (Hattiesburg, Presbyterian Christian) and outfielder Parker Breland (Union) are also back. Pitcher Braelyn Boykin (Mize) started 19 games in the circle a year ago and compiled a 12-5 record.
Pitcher Brooklyn King (George County), who pitched 34 innings last season, and infielder Annabell Watkins (Lake), who played in 15 games, are back. Sophomore utility player Katelyn Morson (Vicksburg, Warren Central) has moved over from the soccer pitch to provide depth in the field and speed on the bases.
“The strength of this team obviously will be the sophomore leadership,” said White. “We have several returning starters with experience at this level. They are very confident offensively and are getting better and better on defense.”
Adding to that experience will be several talented freshmen. Catcher/outfielder Sidney Rone (Ethel) has stepped in as a freshman leader said White. “She brings great attitude and work ethic to the team.” Others White singled out include infielder Zharia Richardson (Harrison Central), a solid defender with a good bat; pitcher/infielder Gracey Baucom (Purvis), who will be called on to help in the circle during the season; outfielder/catcher Landree Amis (Newton County) and infielder/outfielder Khadajah Cowan (Gautier, Resurrection Catholic), who are versatile with good bats and will play several roles on the team; outfielder Savannah Jones (Leake Academy), who has a strong work ethic and is a team leader; and hard-working catcher/infielder Morgan Partridge (Enterprise).
With only 17 rostered players, White said that depth will be the biggest challenge to the Lady Warriors this season.
“Depth will be an issue, so we must stay healthy,” said White. “We will compete every game and we hope to peak at the right time in May and have a strong run in the playoffs.”
East Central begins a very competitive 2020 schedule on Tuesday, Feb. 11, when Coastal Alabama-North visits the Softball Park in Decatur for a doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m. That will be followed by eight tournament games over three days the next two weekends.
“The MACJC is very competitive and just keeps getting better each year,” said White. “Our pre-conference schedule will prepare us for the teams will face when conference play gets underway.”
Among MACJC opponents, Jones is ranked No. 4, Itawamba is No. 7, and Gulf Coast is No. 13. The Lady Warriors will also play No. 1 LSU-Eunice and No. 17 Lansing (Mich.).
White will be assisted this year by Ryan McTaggart, a native of Nanih Waiya who pitched for the University of Central Arkansas. McTaggart’s main focus at ECCC is the pitchers.