The goal entering last season for the Grayson Lady Vikings was to find a way to reach the Region 5 Tournament.
They were able to cross that off the checklist by earning the tournament’s sixth seed and then nearly pulled off a first-round upset. Grayson ended up 0-2 in the bracket so there is something new to chase by the end of this regular season, which starts as the Lady Vikings open 2018 by hosting a double-header against Texas College today at 1 p.m.
“We had some success a little bit. It’s not about getting to the regional tournament but getting to the national tournament,” third-year head coach Mike McBrayer said. “We’re trying to put all the pieces in place.”
The first regional tournament appearance since 2013 was the fourth straight winning record for Grayson, which was 32-27 and 13-19 in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. It was a six-win improvement overall and even though there are holes to fill, key pieces are ready to keep the success going.
“Last year’s team was so good offensively that we still found ways to win games,” McBrayer said. “This year’s bunch is a little more balanced. We’re going to manufacture runs more than sit back and wait for the longball.”
Leading that charge is sophomore shortstop Morgan Lewis, who was a second-team all-conference selection as a utility player. Lewis hit .429 with an on-base percentage of .519 with 15 doubles, 19 RBI and 16 steals in 20 attempts.
Shelby Fleming, who saw time at catcher, first base and outfielder as a freshman, hit .372, drove in 26 runs and finished with more walks than strikeouts.
Freshman Danielle Humphrey will also be in the mix at the same positions as Fleming while Lauren Degelia, who transferred from Delta State, could find a home at third, catcher or the outfield.
Sophomore Ashton Birchfield takes over at second base and classmate Cailyn Cunningham will serve as the designated player.
Alexus White is one of those returning in the outfield while Baylee McBrannon and Shawna Terry, who transferred from Galveston Junior College, are expected to get at-bats in the outfield as well.
Three Lady Vikings threw at least 95 innings last season. Olivia Gutierrez was 12-11 in 40 appearances (27 starts) that spanned 146.1 innings. She had a 5.07 ERA with 143 strikeouts and 135 walks. Tana Davis was 9-7 with a 6.59 ERA in 95.2 innings (16 starts in 34 games) and Kylie Williams was 11-6 with a 5.01 ERA and 104 strikeouts and 49 walks in 95 innings (22 appearances, 14 starts).
Williams was injured in February and missed the rest of her first season but is ready to lead the group going forward.
“She was really good early and after she was hurt her stats suffered. It was a big blow,” McBrayer said.
Newcomer Cassandra Potvin will get innings as a starter while Gutierrez and Davis will see more relief appearances.
“They’ve grown and gotten better,” McBrayer said. “Having the ace of your staff back is a big thing.”
Among those who graduated were first-team all-conference utility selection Jaycee Grimm, a catcher who led the team with a .447 average and was second with 21 home runs and 70 RBI, and second-team all-conference designated hitter Clarissa Peters, who hit .384 with 12 homers and 50 RBI, and those not returning include infielder Jodie Hill, who was second-team all-conference as a freshman and is now at Texas A&M-Commerce, and outfielder Marcella McKinney, a second-team all-conference outfielder who led Grayson with 25 home runs and 77 RBI.
All the early preparation is to gear up for the NTJCAC schedule, which begins February 28 with a home twin bill against Weatherford College. Grayson was picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll.
“The emphasis we’re putting on this season is about the grind and being ready, especially with the freshmen when we get to conference play,” McBrayer said.
In addition to the changes to the roster, the last stages of the facility upgrades will be on display — mainly in the form of a two-story press box behind a 250-seat elevated grandstand behind the backstop. A new scoreboard will also be on display.
For practice purposes, Grayson’s indoor facility has three new nets to help the Lady Vikings prepare better, especially during bad weather.
“A lot of work and support have gone into these updates,” McBrayer said. “We have been very blessed that our administration wants the best for our program and our maintenance department could never be thanked enough for their work on these projects.”