In softball it inevitably comes down to the circle and what you can get from the pitcher you send to it. For the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets, a year ago Jaydan Hunt finished out her high school career on the rubber and delivered the team to its best season in a decade.
The Lady Yellow Jackets only lost once in 5-5A action and she was named the district’s Most Valuable Player. Taking over on a full-time basis is junior Hailey Jaresh, who pitched nearly 40 innings in a secondary role last season.
“She’s not the same pitcher from last year,” Denison head coach Jeremy Green said. “She’s worked very, very hard. She’s embraced she’s not a strikeout pitcher. Don’t walk ‘em or hit ‘em. Give your defense a chance.”
Backed by a lineup that lost just three starters, Denison kicks off its season in the Bonham Tournament on Thursday against defending Class 2A champion Bells.
“I know a lot of people think you’re down when you lose the district MVP, the district Defensive Player of the Year and your second-team all-district second baseman,” Green said. “Our job is to play our game. It’s not going to be the same team. But that doesn’t mean the wins aren’t coming. Different doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”
Green was elevated from his assistant position, which he served the past seven years, after Mike Garcia won the district coach of the year honors and left to be the head girls basketball coach at Lake Worth after a 46-49 record in four season at Denison.
“I am insanely blessed with the coaching staff I have,” Green said. “I’ve been learning from them and they’re learning from me. We’ve been working very well together.”
Garcia’s final season at DHS turned out to be the most successful. The Lady Jackets made the postseason for the first time since 2012 and winning the district title for the first time, and fifth overall, since 2006.
This past season Denison went 16-13 with a bi-district appearance before losing to Aledo, which advanced to the region semifinals. The Lady Jackets went from 2-12 and last place in what was 10-5A before realignment sent the Lady Jackets west and they went 11-1 against district opponents, winning the title by two games.
Two-thirds of the production returns. Senior shortstop Kaylee Walters, senior third baseman Kayla Daugherty, sophomore outfielder Elizabeth Linwood and sophomore catcher Jaci Garvin were all first-team all-district selections while senior outfielder Yvette Moreno was named second-team all-district.
Juniors Shayla Love and Haley Earnhart were honorable mention all-district.
Walters led the team with nine home runs — she has 13 for her career — to go with a .364 average and 19 RBI. She is moving back to shortstop after an injury had her at first base last season.
“The power’s there,” Green said. “We took care of business with the arm and she’s good to go.”
Daugherty was third on the team with a .370 average to go with eight doubles and 10 RBI and moves back to third after filling in at short for Walters last season.
“That’s another one we know what we are getting,” Green said. “The left side of the infield is very strong.”
The right side of the infield will be growing into their roles. Love takes over at first and freshman Madison Carter will be the starting second baseman.
“These girls have put in the work,” Green said. “They earned those spots. I wouldn’t put them there if I wasn’t confident in them.”
Linwood jumped right into the lineup and batted .413, second on the team, with eight doubles and 13 RBI and is back in left field while Moreno returns in center after she batted .319 with 14 RBI. Earnhart, who will get some opportunities to pitch, and junior Kaitlynn McMillan will rotate in right field.
Garvin, who batted .352 with two home runs and 12 RBI, is back behind the plate.
Sophomore Kirsten Cole is expected to see time as the designated player and some innings at third base.
The players who need to be replaced in the order are Hunt, who led the team with a .436 average, 29 RBI and 14 doubles and was second with three home runs, third baseman Danielle Sullivan, who was the district’s Defensive Player of the Year and hit .321 with six doubles and second on the team with 21 RBI as a senior and second baseman Olivia Marr, who is not returning after hitting .338 and driving in 20 runs as a second-team all-district pick as a junior.
In addition to a non-district game against North Lamar, the Lady Yellow Jackets will compete in the Fort Wort Brewer and McKinney tournaments with district play starting February 27. Denison, Denton Ryan, Sherman and Wichita Falls Rider are the teams looking to return to the postseason.
“A new coach brings new ways. I have my ways about how I like a lineup. The only spot right now is Kaylee Walters batting leadoff,” Green said. “We’ve got three tournaments to experiment with things. We have some combinations I’d like to see and we’re going to use them.”