Sherman excited for start with a new field, fresh attitude

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Sherman's Ava Gibson (8) and Miranda Farias will be two starters for the Lady Bearcats as the softball season kicks off next week.

There is a different sense at practice for the Sherman Lady Bearcats, and not only because they are working on making their new digs feel like home.

Adjusting to turf instead of dirt is a part of it; not having to share space as they have for decades at Old Settlers Field is another.

“We have a home and it is all ours. I can’t think of another field that’s nicer,” Sherman head coach Reeca Huntsman said. “We have been spoiled rotten; it’s so nice.”

It also involves a feeling of unfinished business when the promise of a playoff push last season was taken away before it could even start.

“You can either have it be a disappointment or run with the fact we thought we’d be in the top and ride the confidence that comes with that,” Huntsman said. “We haven’t looked back on coulda, woulda shoulda.”

The lineup has undergone changes since then but the opportunity to break in a venue with a postseason berth is part of the first steps Sherman will take in 2021 as the Lady Bearcats open the season at the Highland Park/Richland Tournament on Thursday.

Last year Sherman was 7-12 and just days away from district play when the rest of the season was cancelled due to COVID-19. Because of that, the Lady Bearcats haven’t made the playoffs since 2018. They were playing better when everything came to a halt, nearly matching their win total from the prior season (8) with 10 games left on the schedule.

And while a team is built on strength up the middle, Sherman will have almost an entirely new set of faces there after the graduation of the battery — pitcher Kenna Ferguson and catcher Jillian Whitmire — center fielder Ashley Boatright and second baseman Kaitlin Caver. Kate Gionfriddo also leaves a void at first base.

“We lost a huge group of seniors. We really have a different team, a different attitude,” Huntsman said. “I still think we’re talented but it’s a different mentality.”

That leaves about a third of the lineup left to guide the newcomers. There could be as many as four freshmen in the batting order.

“We are going to be strong up the middle. It’s names that are familiar, just they’ve been in different places,” Huntsman said. “Our depth is going to be really big for us.”

Senior Emma Jones is a four-year starter and while she has spent almost all of her time at third base, she is getting the nod behind the plate for her final season.

Junior Mackenzie Clark is a three-year starter who was in right field last spring but could also see time at catcher.

When Jones isn’t catching she will be a third; when Clark isn’t there she is expected to be in left field.

Sophomore Addey Kuhn jumped right into the lineup last year at shortstop and holds down the spot again. Her double-play partner will be senior Miranda Farias, who had been a starter in the outfield before shifting to second base.

“It was an easy move because she’s played middle infield before,” Huntsman said.

The Lady Bearcats will have a new pitcher for the third straight season. Ferguson stepped into the circle after Jessica Bridges’ run on the rubber and now it is junior Ava Gibson’s turn to take over in the middle of the diamond.

Gibson made a handful of appearances last season and gets the early nod but is being pushed by freshman Bailey Miller.

“It’s hers to lose at this point,” Huntsman said.

Miller could also slot in at third base while Gibson is an option at first. Senior Jenica Fielder, who missed last year with an injury, is slated to be at first base depending on the alignment.

Madison Jarvis gets the nod in center field and the freshman will be flanked by classmate Marissa Wells or either Clark or sophomore Lauren Whitmire.

Freshman Natalie Rodriguez is expected to factor in for at-bats in the designated player role.

Options off the bench could be juniors Ally Baker and Taylor Hix and sophomore Emma Bindel.

“I’d really like to go into tournaments with more of a set lineup,” Huntsman said. “We have some really talented freshmen and kids who can play several places.”

In addition to non-district games against Celina and Denton Braswell, the Lady Bearcats will compete in tournaments at Allen and Coppell/Flower Mound Marcus before starting District 10-5A play on March 8.

Sherman remained with Denison, McKinney North, Wylie East, Lovejoy and Princeton in the latest realignment while Prosper Rock Hill, a first-year varsity program, and The Colony were added to the district.

“There’s not a clear front-runner. Adding The Colony in there and Rock Hill, it does make it harder to get a playoff spot,” Huntsman said. “We’re two years out (from the last district games) so there’s a lot of growth that can happen in two years.”

Highland Park Tournament

What: Sherman vs. John Paul II

When: 4 p.m. Thursday