The Neosho softball team went 15-10 last season in its second year under head coach Catie Cummins.
It marked the program’s first winning season since 2011 when Cummins was a senior player for Neosho and led the team in doubles, triples, walks and slugging percentage.
“I actually read that stat the other day and I was surprised, because I didn’t realize it had been that long since Neosho had a winning season,” Cummins said. “It makes me proud to know the impact that the players, the coaches and I have have had in the last couple years.
“This program is headed in the right direction, and we’re obviously excited to find out what we can accomplish this season.”
And with six returning starters and a veteran cast in the infield, the expectations for the 2019 campaign are the highest they’ve been in the past decade.
“Our goal is to always finish in upper portion of the COC,” Cummins said. “We would love to finish first, because everyone should want to finish first. But the COC is such a tough conference. Even the teams that aren’t as strong as Ozark, Webb City and Republic, you can’t take them lightly. But I like the way our team matches up with teams in our conference this year, and I think we’ll surprise a few people.”
Another one of the team’s goals, according to Cummins, is to make up for one of the shortcomings the team suffered in last year’s Class 4 District 11 tournament, where its season came to a close with a 3-0 loss to Willard in the opening round.
“We made it to the district championship in 2017, and we felt like we were good enough to make it back (last season),” Cummins said. “So being able to right that wrong this year, I think that’s part of our motivation. And in the three years I’ve been here, this will be our best shot to win a district championship.”
The Wildcats will be led in part by six seniors, four of whom are returning starters.
“Kind of a cool fact about our seniors is that they’re the first players to start at Neosho Junior High as seventh graders,” Cummins said. “So they’re the first group that’s put in six years in our program. I think that says a lot about their commitment to the program.”
Kyla Daspit returns to the pitcher’s circle after a breakout junior campaign that saw her go 13-7 with a 2.94 earned run average and 83 strikeouts in 126 innings.
Daspit will be backed up by a veteran infield that consists of senior Mikayla Long — a third baseman who had eight home runs and 26 runs batted in as a junior — as well as seniors Kayla Bach (first baseman), Megan Geller (second baseman) and junior Sierra Jones (shortstop).
And in the outfield, swift-footed sophomore Kaitlyn Killion, who led the team with a .390 batting average and nine stolen bases last year, will be transitioning from left field to center field.
“Kaitlyn is our only returning starter in the outfield, but we have about five girls who are battling for those starting roles in right field and left field,” Cummins said. “A lot of that really will come down to who’s going to hit.”
In total, Neosho has 30 players on the roster. Cummins said it’s the highest turnout the program has had since before her playing days.
“We would have about 18 to 20 kids girls come out back when I played,” she said. “So we would barely have enough for two teams, and now we have enough for three teams. I think a lot of it has to do with players buying in to what we’ve been doing at the junior high level. They’re enjoying playing and seeing that they can be successful, and they want to continue that once they get to high school.”
The Wildcats open the season at home on Sept. 5 against Cassville.
RETURNING STARTERS—Kayla Bach, sr. first baseman; Kyla Daspit, sr. pitcher; Megan Geller, sr. second baseman; Mikayla Long, sr. third baseman; Sierra Jones, jr. shortstop; Kaitlyn Killion, so. center fielder.
TOP PROSPECTS—Brittany Winchester, jr. pitcher; Trinity Drake, fr. utility; McKaylie Forest, fr. catcher.
Sept. 5 — Cassville
Sept. 6-7 — Joplin Tournament
Sept. 10 — at Republic
Sept. 12 — at Willard
Sept. 16 — McDonald County
Sept. 17 — Carl Junction
Sept. 19 — Ozark
Sept. 20-21 — Branson Tournament
Sept. 24 — at Carthage
Sept. 26 — at Branson
Oct. 1 — at Webb City
Oct. 3 — Nixa
Oct. 8 — Joplin
Oct. 10 — at East Newton
Oct. 11-12 — CarthageTournament
Oct. 14 — Seneca