A new coach takes over a roster with old faces and the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets are hoping the combination can equal immediate success.

A new coach takes over a roster with old faces and the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets are hoping the combination can equal immediate success.


For the first time in nearly a decade there is a change in the third-base dugout even though the lineup will be peppered with multi-year starters as Denison opens the season by hosting Paris North Lamar tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Culpepper Field.


The Lady Jackets are heavy on upperclassmen — 10 of the 13 — and looking to find the extra surge needed to jump back into the postseason.


"The expectation is to make the playoffs. Their attitude and work ethics have been off the charts," Denison head coach Mike Garcia said. "These girls have been real receptive to what I’ve asked. Senior leadership’s been big."


They will be doing that as Garcia replacing Ashli Wigington, who stepped down to be a physical education teacher at DeSoto. She was the second head coach in program history, compiling a 135-143 record and three playoff appearances in nine seasons.


This is Garcia’s first opportunity to be a head softball coach after assisting at a pair of high schools over eight seasons in his native New Mexico.


"I gave them a clean slate," Garcia said. "We’re growing this together, building this together."


Denison went 17-12 last spring and tied Sherman for fifth in the 13-4A standings, three games back of a return trip to the playoffs. In 2012 the Lady Jackets broke a six-year playoff drought dating back to the program’s last district title and best playoff showing with a trip to the region quarterfinals.


Even though the Lady Jackets lose three starters to graduation, there will be up to eight players with starting experience to pencil into the lineup.


"We’re pretty much set," Garcia said. "A lot of it’s going to be situational. We’ve got a lot of different scenarios."


Two-thirds of the outfield, however, will be new. Alex Eichler hit .359 in right and Alicia Tanguma produced a .337 average in left.


Senior center fielder Dee Harris is back after hitting .361 but will be flanked by a pair of young newcomers.


Sophomore Lexi Williams will take over in right and freshman Jaydan Hunt gets the nod in left.


"The reason they’re out there is they earned it," Garcia said. "I’m not bringing up a younger kid to sit on the bench. They all have speed and good arms."


The rest of the lineup, however, returns almost completely intact.


"We have depth on this team. I don’t think there’s going to be a drop-off anywhere," Garcia said. "It’s just a matter of putting the best lineup — hitting-wise and fielding-wise — on the field."


Mariaha Scally, a four-year starter, leaves a void at shortstop after being a first-team all-district selection when she led the Lady Jackets with a .440 average, 12 doubles and 38 runs as well as hitting three homers and driving in 20.


Monica Eslick will slide over to short after starting her first three years at third base. The top returner in most offensive categories and all-district honorable mention selection hit .350 with a team-best 29 RBI and will remain a threat in the middle of the order.


"Shortstop is the captain of the infield," Garcia said. "She’s going to be getting a lot more touches there. She’s been making plays there. I feel real comfortable with her there."


Senior Hailey Jackson shifted from behind the plate to first base and was a second-team all-district pick, hitting four homers and 22 RBI to go with a .294 batting average and a team-best 16 walks.


Cassidy McDaris returns at catcher for her junior year, winning the job as a sophomore when she batted .346 with four homers, 23 RBI and 25 runs and earned second-team all-district honors.


Second baseman Shelby Lindsey is back after hitting .325 to go with six doubles, 26 runs and 13 RBI and sits atop the batting order.


Rounding out the infield will be Garcia’s daughter, Melanie, who will be the third baseman as a sophomore.


Bailey Nixon, who started at first as a freshman, will look to rebound during her junior year as the designated player.


Hailey Nipper begins her third year in the circle following a 12-10 record with a 3.85 earned run average in 132.2 innings. Nixon was 5-2 with a pair of saves and a 4.52 ERA in 43.1 innings. Garcia and Hunt could also see some pitching action.


"They all have different speeds," Garcia said. "They all have different pitches."


Senior Micalah Hunt provides a power bat off the bench while senior Nicole Swindell and junior Mady McAlester round out the options for the lineup.


In addition to non-district games against Prosper and Tom Bean, the Lady Jackets will compete in the Whitesboro and North Central Texas College tournaments before District 13-4A action starts on March 4.