As the Grayson College softball team inches closer to making it to the national tournament, the Lady Vikings know they have a tough task in the front of them.
They finished with the same conference record as the prior season, but had a better showing in the region tournament that was won by the eventual national champions.
With some new faces across the lineup, including a pair of local standouts, the Lady Vikings look to continue in the right direction as Grayson opens the season by hosting Paris Junior College today for a double-header at noon.
“We’re trying to build a culture of winning,” Grayson head coach Michael McBrayer said. “With the sophomores we brought back, they know what it takes, how to grind.”
The Lady Vikings finished 20-23 overall, 13-19 in North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play and reached the Region V Tournament for the second straight year. After going 0-2 in 2017, Grayson managed a victory at the region tourney and was one of the final four teams left in the bracket before bowing out in a 4-3 loss against Weatherford.
“Injuries hurt us at times. We didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle through the year,” McBrayer said. “Sometimes you’ve got to change the way you do business and I feel like we’ve done that.”
Two of the Lady Vikings back in the lineup are catcher Danielle Humphrey, who batted .323, tied for the team lead with 10 home runs and was second with 44 RBI as a first-team all-conference selection, and first baseman Skylar Shedlock, who had a team-high .366 average with 17 RBI and 11 walks against four strikeouts in 112 at-bats.
They will shift in the field with Humphrey seeing more time at first base and Shedlock getting a majority of at-bats as the designated player.
There are holes to fill as three of the top four hitters graduated, including outfielder Shelby Fleming, a first-team all-conference selection who hit .362 with 15 doubles, 10 homers and 48 RBI, and shortstop Morgan Lewis, a second-team all-conference pick who batted .342 with 17 RBI, 17 steals and 38 walks.
“We were concerned going in that we were pretty young, that we might be really freshman-heavy,” McBrayer said. “Now there’s a lot more balance.”
The outfield will have a couple of transfers in it, led by sophomore Jade Miller in left and the leadoff spot after arriving following a red-shirt year at Louisiana Tech. She hit .469 in 2017 at the University of Dallas.
“She’s as tooled up with the bat as any girl I’ve had,” McBrayer said.
In center will be sophomore Kamrie Harrison, who came from University of Missouri Kansas City after batting .302 in 43 at-bats for the Division I program.
Right field will be manned by freshman Melinda Martinez.
Rien Milliken, a Canadian who transferred following a season at Galveston, is expected to get a majority of the time at catcher.
Freshman Cheyenne Stark could make an impact at a couple of positions based on her athleticism and starts at shortstop.
Denison’s Kaylee Walters jumps into the lineup at third base and the No. 2 spot in the order.
“She’s settled in over there at third,” McBrayer said. “She’s earned the right to get in the top of the order.”
Rounding out the infield is freshman Eden Lawson at second base.
“Eden is really good offensively and does a great job defensively,” McBrayer said.
When not serving in a pitching capacity, Carmen Eilertsev, another Canadian, will fit in at the designated player spot with Shedlock.
Options off the bench include Sherman freshman outfielder Ariel Garcia and sophomore infielder Lauren Degelia, who hit .225 with 16 RBI and 21 walks in 89 at-bats over 36 games last spring.
In the circle, the top two hurlers — Kylie Williams and Olivia Gutierrez — are gone and accounted for 174.1 of the team’s 219.2 innings. Cassandra Potvin is back after going 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 44.1 innings.
“Last year she battled a bad back between outings,” McBrayer said. “We feel really good about our depth. Depth is not going to be an issue.”
Eilertsev will be a part of a rotation that is expected to be headed by fellow lefty freshman Angelia Va’a. Classmates Annalee Diehl and Sarah Azlin are also in line for time in the circle.
All the early preparation is to gear up for the NTJCAC schedule, which begins February 27 with a twin bill at Weatherford College. Grayson was picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll.
“We’re going to be tested in the month of February and that was by design. We’re playing some top 10, at worst top 20 teams,” McBrayer said. “We want to be ready come conference play.”