If you're looking for a high school baseball or softball team's best players, shortstop and pitcher are generally good places to start.

And usually, the shortstops, which is the key defensive players, are juniors and seniors with the occasional sophomore.

This softball season has had its share of solid shortstops in Missouri, from Joplin junior Rachel Driver, whose solid play got the Lady Eagles a spot in the quarterfinal of the MSHSAA Class 4 playoffs, to Carthage's Aspen Roughton.

The unusual thing is the number of freshmen playing shortstop this season.

Neosho, with its five straight district titles before this season, had Angelina Dolon at short. The frosh showed great potential from early in the season when she had a couple of doubles in a win at Joplin.

Then there's McAuley Catholic's Kristin Wilmes, a freshman that helped the Lady Warriors win the Ozark 7 Conference title and into the district championship.

But one of the best is Miller's Hailee Hendricks, a 4-foot-11 phenom.

"People tell me how amazing she is and how she's by far the best defensive player," said Miller coach Matt Walters. "She dives all over the field and can get up and throw out people with a great arm."

Hendricks and the rest of the Lady Cardinals will play North Shelby in the Class 1 semifinals on Friday morning in Columbia.

North Shelby had a freshman at shortstop and second base most of the season but coach Angie Resa said she switched her shortstop and third baseman to improve the communication.

Maybe it was the play of Tasha Hedgecorth as a freshman last season for Webb City, which also made it to the state semifinals, that started the trend.

Plenty returning

For those who watched Joplin beat Neosho 2-0 in a classic district championship game, here's something to contemplate.

Most of those players, barring injury or moves, will return next season.

Joplin will take the biggest hit in losing seniors Jessi Alford, Elisha Brower and Alex Doerge because all were pitchers. Plus Alford, who dominated the Ozark Conference this season, and Brower were the Nos. 1 and 2 batters in the Lady Eagle lineup.

But returning will be the infield of first baseman Miranda Johnson, who had the key hit in the district final, second baseman Mary Beth Bourne, who hit around .400, Driver and third baseman Renae Cookerly.

Throw in the power of catcher Emily Jones and the potential of outfielders Morgan Secrist, Morgan Todd and Meryl Kress, who was injured the last half of the season, and the Lady Eagles have a potent lineup.

Neosho's most notable returner will be pitcher Ashley Bussey.

Add McAuley as another team that will return good players. Actually, McAuley will return all of its players since there were no seniors this year.

Address correspondence to Michael Davison, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, Mo. 64802.

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