With almost their entire lineup returning, the Sherman Lady Bearcats are thinking bigger than just making the playoffs — something they have done the past two seasons.
Now the program is hoping to take the next step and get past the first round.
Sherman is under the direction of a new head coach eager to get her own taste of the postseason as the Lady Bearcats open the year by hosting Frisco Lebanon Trail at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.
“Those are the conversations we’ve had from Day 1,” Sherman head coach Reeca Huntsman said. “They know the expectations. We have big plans. They already had a tradition of going to the playoffs. Culture was really good. They work really hard.”
The Lady Bearcats went 13-16 last season but finished in a three-way tie with Denton and Denton Braswell in the standings behind district champ Denton Ryan and entered the playoffs as the second seed. Sherman won the first game of its bi-district series against Azle before being eliminated in a double-header.
Huntsman, a Pottsboro native, takes over the program from Brenda Samuels, who stepped down after a 32-30 record and playoff trips in both her seasons at Sherman. The postseason appearance in 2017 was the program’s first in five years.
She was the head coach at Gunter for five seasons, where she just missed out on the playoffs twice, including last spring, after serving as an assistant at Grayson College.
“It’s been an easy transition. The pressure’s on me,” Huntsman said. “The lineup might be a little bit different. My strategy’s going to be a bit different. Nothing is a given but we aren’t starting from scratch either.”
Returning in the circle is Jessica Bridges, who was a first-team all-district selection with a 1.74 earned run average and 238 strikeouts in 165 innings and also hit .364 with 15 RBI as a junior.
“She’s our leader. She sets the tone,” Huntsman said. “You don’t have to get on her about things. She knows what it’s all about.”
Junior Jillian Whitmire, who made the move to catcher last season and was the district’s Utility Player of the Year after batting .359 with nine doubles and 10 RBI, isn’t a lock to return behind the plate. Sophomore Emma Jones, who was at third last year, and freshman Mackenzie Clark are all vying to start. The two who don’t end up at catcher will be somewhere else in the field or as the designated player.
“At this point I don’t know if I could pick one,” Huntsman said. “The good thing is they’ll all be starting at other positions. It’s finding that right balance. They all bring different things to the table.”
The Lady Bearcats did lose first-team all-district shortstop Jill Dixon, who hit .307 with 16 RBI, as the only starter on the infield who graduated. Kaitlyn Bang will shift over to short after manning second base as a junior.
“She’s so even-keeled and stoic and done a great job filling that hole,” Huntsman said. “That’s our biggest hole from offense to defense to leadership.”
Junior Kaitlin Caver, who hit .316 and earned first-team all-district accolades in the outfield, will get the starting nod at second base while junior Kenna Ferguson, a second-team all-district selection, and senior Bailey Kuhn are in a battle for playing time at first base.
Ferguson is also the backup to Bridges at pitcher.
Ashley Boatright, who was second-team all-district as a sophomore, moves over to center field and is coming off a hand injury. She will be flanked by senior Jessica Shrum in right and sophomore Miranda Farias in left.
Options off the bench include junior outfielder Rose Osorio and junior third baseman and catcher Kate Gionfriddo.
“There’s a lot of different combinations,” Huntsman said. “My biggest challenge coming in were hitting lineups. Figuring that out has been the biggest thing for me.”
In addition to competing in the Prosper, Allen and Wylie tournaments, Sherman has non-district games against McKinney, Denton, Melissa and Sulphur Springs before starting 10-5A play on March 19. The Lady Bearcats will be in a district with Denison, Princeton, McKinney North, Wylie East and Lovejoy.
“Nothing is given, especially coming into a new district,” Huntsman said. “I hope our district is competitive. I think we’re prepared and they can handle the pressure.”