- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Elizabethtown coach Matt Mardis was shocked when his Lady Panthers were picked third in the 5th Region in a preseason poll.
After graduating pitcher and team leader Mary Beth Russell and catcher Sydney Herzog, the Lady Panthers were slated to return 8-of-10 starters from a team which went 14-19 and lost in extra innings in the region tournament semifinals. Those numbers, and positions, were thrown into flux when All-Area freshman shortstop Erin Boley decided not to return.
“Everything is all out of whack,” Mardis said. “This is not what I had envisioned.”
So while the Lady Panthers still have seven starters back, not many of them will be in the same positions they were last season.
“We’ve got a lot of new pieces,” Mardis said, “and we have a long way to go.”
The good news is the Lady Panthers have several young players to work with, including eighth-grade pitcher Callie Sondergard and eighth-grade third baseman/catcher Taylor Thomas.
Sondergard saw plenty of time at first base last season, but was thrust into the circle late in the season as well as the postseason when an arm injury hampered Russell.
“It was kind of trial by fire,” Mardis said. “But there’s no doubt those games helped her.”
Two more eighth-graders, Sarah Beth Hundley and Morgan White, could also pitch.
Hundley will play first base if she’s not pitching. She’ll be joined on the right side of the infield by freshman second baseman Carly Patterson, a converted right fielder. Hundley was primarily a designated hitter last season, although she saw more time at first base once Sondergard was forced to pitch. Patterson was a pinch hitter, pinch runner and spot outfielder last year.
Junior Brianna Taylor was projected to start at shortstop last season when Boley was out with an injury. When Boley returned, Taylor moved to second base after starting in the outfield in middle school. Now Taylor’s back at shortstop.
“Bri’s the type of kid that if I told her to go catch, she’d go catch. If I told her to pitch, she’d look at me funny, but she’d go pitch,” Mardis said. “Bri’s the type of kid that’s about what’s best for the team. There’s not a selfish bone in her body.”
When Thomas isn’t at the hot corner, she’ll relieve freshman Brooke Chancey at catcher. Chancey played right field last year, but caught four games on the junior-varsity level.
“I’ll be honest, she has real limited experience back there,” Mardis said. “But she’s worked hard at it. Plus, we don’t have a lot of choices.”
With such a young infield, Mardis knows the players will be prone to mistakes. But he also knows they’ll show flashes of potential.
“They’re all babies,” Mardis said, referring to the youth. “Other than Bri, they’ll be together for a long time. That’s a positive. They’re humble. And when we go to practice, they’re open (to coaching).”
The Lady Panthers are more stable in the outfield as senior Lauren Denton returns in left and senior Allison Sherrard is back in center. Sophomore soccer player Caitlin Thompson joins them in right. Thompson was used as a courtesy and pinch runner last year.
Other players who could see time are sixth-grader Rylee Brown, freshman KiKi Seth, sophomore Makayla Sherrard and seniors JahNay Evans and Autumn Wilkerson.
Mardis said it could be a while until the team starts to gel and lives up to the preseason expectations opposing coaches have put on it.
“We’re going to make mistakes. There’s no doubt,” Mardis said. “But, as ugly as it’s going to be at times, in the end, I believe it will look pretty decent.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or email@example.com