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The Sparkman Senators are ready to fight to return to the Class 7A State Championship in which they fell just short last season losing in the championship finals. The 2020 version of the elite program has six returning starters and additional experience to face the challenge. Photo Contributed

High School Softball 2020: Elite Teams Excel With Experience

MADISON- The 2020 high school softball season is underway and with plenty of experienced players returning for the newest campaign as all four of the local programs have the chance to excel unlike any season in recent memory.

Sparkman will overcome the bitter taste of losing in the Class 7A State Championship a season ago, Bob Jones looks to youth and experience to be keys for success, James Clemens will look to bust the 30-win mark on the new year and Madison Academy is set to try and compete on a high level with 12 players on its roster.

The regular season ends with post-season playoffs beginning April 24 with the AHSAA State Tournament scheduled for May 12-16 in Montgomery.

BOB JONES:

The Lady Patriots have one senior on the season roster, but return five starters for the squad that posted a 34-12 record a year ago. Youth combined with experience will be the team’s forte as head coach Whitney Deaver heads into her fourth season to lead the Pats.

“We will struggle in hitting as we’ll have to depend on five players who have not been in the varsity lineup,” said Deaver. “Pitching will be a different story as we will have a lot of experience with excellent arms. One of those is sophomore Emma Rolfe, an All-State selection a year ago. Megan Shurtz (Jr.) had a lot of innings on varsity and played in high-level travel ball so she’ll be good for us. We have at least six pitchers who could see pitching time this season.”

“This is a team that’s never gonna quit as we have worked well together and need to put that work into the games,” said Aubrie Linsenby, a junior catcher.

Rylee Snyder, the lone senior member of the team and who plays centerfield, said, “I think this team is about our mental aspects and what we can do together. If we can just hunker down, I think we can do good things this season.”

JAMES CLEMENS:

Second-year head coach Brittany Vintson used off-field training to assist in her team to better its 29-18-1 record of a year ago. She had her team members go through a battery of a leadership program including reading a book and listening to numerous guest speakers about their experiences and challenges in sports and in life in general. Vintson feels the program has had a huge impact on the team.

“This team plays for each other with a lot more leadership than last year’s squad,” said Vintson. “I can see the difference. As for on the field, we won’t have as much power, but have more situational type hitters with a lot of speed.”

The Lady Jets will have returning the Brooks twins. Sophomores Emma and Elizabeth Brooks were the aces last season and look to lead the pitching corps of five.

“I think we’re ready as we’re all friends with one another and will do what we need to do to go in the right direction,” said Makayla Barnett, senior centerfielder for the Jets.

Senior right fielder Deborah Grady will bring power to the plate offensively. “I do a lot of work to be a power hitter. I attend my hitting lessons and other training away from the field,” said Grady. “I think I’m up for the task.”

James Clemens will be gifted on defense with six starters expected to suit up for the 2020 season. The leadership program is setting the mindset of the squad as positive and that can lead to W’s in the schedule.

“We’re going to make it to state. I’m working hard towards our short goals first, which are winning area and regionals,” said senior first baseman and leader of the defense Caroline Hopkins. “As a team, we’ll look and concentrate on the shorter goals to reach the bigger goal of winning a state championship.”

SPARKMAN:

The Sparkman Senators have a unique situation of not having one single player on the team roster who has experienced a state championship as Sparkman last won a Class 7A state title in 2016. Six starters return from the squad that finished state runner-up to Hewitt-Trussville last year and posted a 39-12 record.

“We lost a lot from the past couple of years, but we should be able to bond. We have progressed in that area since the first day of school back in the fall,” said Mykael Ledet one of six seniors on the team.

Dale Palmer enters his 24th season at Sparkman in which his squads have won six state championships. It’s been a while since he hoisted the state trophy and he feels with the experience returning, including senior Cassidy Duskin, who missed all of last season due to an ACL injury and surgery, the makeup of the squad is one that can maneuver the Lady Senators back to the state tournament where memories of last year’s loss still reverberate throughout the program.

“It does linger in our memories as I’ve lived it many times as I’ve thought 50 different things I could have done differently and they could have turned out a different way,” said Palmer. “Offensively we have a lot of firepower back and with our pitching staff pretty solid we have a chance.”

“We got second place my freshman year as well and that was something I didn’t want to feel again,” said Kamryn Warman, senior third baseman and a Boston College signee. “Having that happen again really pushes me to be able to help guide the team to do better. I know a lot of our players want to experience the feeling of a state championship that Sparkman has had so many times. It would be such an amazing opportunity to be one of those teams.”

MADISON ACADEMY:

With just 12 players on the squad a season ago, the Madison Academy Lady Mustangs mustered up a 29-12 record. This season the Mustangs again have a dozen players on the roster with five starters returning, but with four new players and no seniors also among the roster mix, it’s anybody’s guess on how the Class 5A team will do in 2020.

“We have very little experience coming back and will have a ninth grader on the mound as our No. 2 pitcher,” said Dean Clark, head coach of Madison Academy in his sixth year as top Mustang.

The top pitcher will be junior Sus Cruit, who carried the bulk of the innings last year. The good news will be if Mya Clark is ready to boost the pitching corps giving Cruit some valuable breaks from the mound.

“It does put some added pressure on me, but my pitching coach helps me with that by making sure my pitching mechanics is on point and working on my stamina and my control so I don’t have to try and blow it by everyone,” said Cruit.

“I’m focusing on the little things about myself and at the same time helping the younger players as I definitely feel we’re focusing on all of our efforts going the correct way,” said Alex Liddie, junior shortstop, who is a fifth-year starter.

The program at Madison Academy is just seven wins away the golden mark of 400 wins. Last year’s team set a new school record with 44 homeruns.

“We have more speed, but less power than last season as we have just half of the homerun output returning as at the plate we’ll be more fundamental,” said Clark. “We don’t have a junior varsity team as we have to build every year. We have to get them together as a team and put them in the correct positions.”

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