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The way veteran coach Donnie Baker looks at it, the North Hardin Trojans are a lot like their coach – getting older.
“All of those little girls are growing up. They’re a year older and a year stronger and a year more experienced,” he said. “They’re growing up, slowly but surely.”
Sophomore Bailey Blair returns to the pitching circle after making it her full-time home last season. Baker said she developed as the season went on and continued to improve in the offseason.
Blair entered the final weekend of the regular season last year leading the area in strikeouts (191) and tied for the area lead in wins (13).
“The girl has been non-stop,” Baker said of Blair, who has developed a changeup, screwball, fastball and dropball. “She played on summer ball travel teams and played through the winter. She’s really worked her butt off all year. She’s been to college clinics and she’s really been working hard. … She’s the main cog. We’ll go as she goes.”
Sophomore Kristen Moreland and eighth-graders Brooke Mahanna, Taylor Walters and Makayla Daniel could throw a few innings as well.
However, Baker admits there is a drop-off from Blair to the other four. Especially with Blair’s varsity experience compared to the others.
“Pitching is a concern,” he said. “We’re one pitcher, basically.”
Freshman Shelby Peace is back at catcher after shifting from second base.
With starting third baseman Aubree Muse transferring to Central Hardin, sophomore Lydia Wiseman inherits that position. At the other corner infield spot, senior Brittanie Mahanna is the front runner at first base.
Sophomore Cady Wilson returns at second base after replacing Peace, while junior Ashley Vasquez returns at shortstop. Vasquez has held that position since she was in middle school.
Junior Stephanie Thomas is in left field, senior three-sport athlete Ariana Martinez is in center field and sophomore Cassie Ferguson is in right field.
Eighth-grader Kayla Clark-Reed, who played for John Hardin last year, could break into the lineup as the designated hitter, but sophomore basketball player Cierra Young, sophomore Desiree Sharp and freshman Ayanna Williams also are vying for that role.
After allowing three of their first four foes to score double-digit runs last season, the Trojans allowed more than nine runs just three more times the rest of the season. North Hardin held all but one of its last 11 opponents to fewer than six runs.
“Probably defense is our strength with another year of experience,” Baker said. “Our offense is yet to be determined.”
North Hardin, which finished 13-16 last season, was 14th in the 17-team region in total runs with 114. Only Caverna (96 runs) and Bardstown (94) had less-productive offenses.
The Trojans didn’t hit a home run last season and entered the final weekend of the regular season without a player ranked in the area’s top seven in any of the eight offensive categories.
“We didn’t really have any problem swinging the bat and I thought we made good contact on the ball, but our weakness was being not strong enough to drive it,” Baker said. “Hopefully by being, like I said, a year older, a year stronger and a year more experienced, we’ll be able to generate a lot more offense than last year. At least that’s what I’m hoping and praying for.”
While his team has changed as far as its strength and maturity, Baker said one thing hasn’t changed.
“The expectations never change,” he said. “We want to go to region and then go to State.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org