When the Sherman Lady Bearcats began to put in the work to get them over the top this spring, they knew the success would be measured by the progress that comes in the rectangle measuring three feet by seven feet on either side of home plate.
Too many times — half to be exact — the struggles with the bat ended up as Sherman’s downfall in coming up short of the playoffs. The turnaround began with every extra swing and the Lady Cats hope to unleash their work in the cage as they open the season at Frisco Independence at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
“Our leaders have stepped up in a big way. We have amazing senior leaders,” Sherman head coach Reeca Huntsman said. “I feel like there were a lot of things that were inconsistent last year. I think we’ve fixed that. We feel really good about where we are.”
Sherman went 8-20 overall last season and just missed out on making a third straight playoff appearance. The Lady Bearcats were in the chase for a spot going into the final week of the season but came up a win short of forcing a tie-breaker against Wylie East for the last berth and had to settle for fifth place.
A big part of the issue was putting runs on the board. Sherman hit .253 as a team, averaged a little more than 3.5 runs per game and in 10 of the losses was held to a run or shut out.
Now the focus is on making a third trip to the postseason in the past four years.
“Last year we were trying to fit in some pieces. We’re going to pick up momentum really quickly this time around,” Huntsman said. “(The lineup’s) set. We don’t have those moving parts this year. I think we’re really confident.”
The biggest hole to fill comes in the circle after the graduation of Jessica Bridges, a four-year starter at pitcher and a three-time first-team all-district selection. She was also the Lady Bearcats’ second-leading hitter with a .342 average.
Also gone is shortstop Kaitlyn Bang, who was honorable mention all-district, outfielder Jessica Shrum and utility Bailey Kuhn. But for the most part the batting order remains intact and will look to improve over last season.
Senior catcher Jillian Whitmire is the focus of the lineup after being a first-team all-district selection. She led Sherman with a.365 batting average, two homers, 10 doubles and 19 RBI.
“She can take over a game behind the plate,” Huntsman said.
Whitmire and Bridges were the only Lady Bearcats to hit better than .300, although two others came close.
Junior third baseman Emma Jones enters her third season as a starter after batting .298 and was tied for second on the team with 11 RBI as a second-team all-district selection.
Senior outfielder Ashley Boatright missed more than half the season with a hand injury but sported a .297 average during 10-5A games and was second-team all-district.
Senior Kaitlin Caver, who was first-team all-district as a sophomore outfielder, moved to second base last year, hit .261 and returns as the starter after being honorable mention all-district.
“She’s kind of that anchor for the infield,” Huntsman said. “She’s claimed second base as her own.”
Taking over at pitcher is senior Kenna Ferguson, who served as Bridges’ backup and was the starting first baseman.
“Kenna’s doing a great job in the circle for us right now,” Huntsman said. “She’s a fighter and a leader.”
Sophomore Ava Gibson could also help out in the pitching department, initially in relief or with a spot start. She might also contribute at designated player.
“She’s still kind of developing a bit,” Huntsman said. “It won’t be long before she could be our No. 2 starter.”
Senior Miranda Farias is back as the left fielder. Joining her and Boatright will be sophomore Mackenzie Clark, who jumped right into the starting lineup and spent most of her time at designated player last spring. She takes over in right but could join Jones as an option at catcher.
First base will be a position that could be manned by a couple of Lady Cats. Ferguson will be there when not pitching, Whitmire will be there when not catching and the final part of the rotation is senior Kate Gionfriddo.
Stepping in at shortstop will be freshman Addey Kuhn.
“I have 10 solid bats so it will depend on the right timing, who is hot,” Huntsman said. “There’s so many advantages to the 10 I have. They fill a lot of different roles.”
Options off the bench include junior Kinlie Bernard, sophomore Chloe Patton and freshmen Lauren Whitmire and Emma Bindel.
In addition to competing in the Galveston, Allen and Pilot Point tournaments, Sherman has non-district games against Denton Braswell, Denton Ryan and Sulphur Springs before starting 10-5A play on March 17. The Lady Bearcats will be trying to break into the postseason in a district that includes Denison, Princeton, McKinney North, Wylie East and Lovejoy.
“We kinda changed things up a little bit. The girls are excited about going to Galveston,” Huntsman said. “We have a tough schedule but at the same time there’s games I think that will push us and we can be successful in.”