Lady Bobcats expect improvement in 2011

Written By: Shawn Wansley
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Date Submitted: 2011-01-31 16:16:53

 By Shawn Wansley

JCJC Sports Information Director

ELLISVILLE – Chris Robinson enters his second year as head coach of the Jones County Junior College Lady Bobcats’ softball team with much more confidence than he did during his 2010 debut season.

“It’s different when you are the head coach,” he said. “I was a part of the program for six years as an assistant before I took the job as head coach. I did not realize how different it was. It is time consuming and you are the one calling the shots. Ultimately, it all falls on you.

“But I am so much more familiar with the ins and outs of it now. When I took over, I did not really know a lot about some things, like the budgets and some paperwork. But I have enjoyed it, I am learning more every day and I am thankful for the opportunity I have here.”

One thing Robinson and the Lady Bobcats are looking forward to is taking the field at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 against Holmes Community College at the new Community Bank Park. The $2.8 million facility features 266 chairback seats, along with bleacher seating.

Robinson said it would be a major boost in so many ways to the program, especially recruiting.

“Words cannot describe how nice it is,” he said. “It has been a long time coming. When opening day gets here and all of the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, it will be a beautiful place to play ball. It will be a great place to watch a ballgame.

“The kids kind of light up every day when something new goes up. It will help tremendously in recruiting. I think a lot of people around the league will enjoy coming to our stadium and it may end up helping them with their facilities. Hopefully, it will start a trend around the league.”

But the other schools will have to go quite a way to catch up with the Lady Bobcats, as far as stadiums go. Robinson said Community Bank Park tops the MACJC parks by a long shot.

“Just off the top of my head, it will be the best junior college facility in the state of Mississippi,” he said. “It is better than a lot of Division I parks and I have seen quite a few of those. That is saying a lot.”

As far as the 2011 Lady Bobcats are concerned, they will be quite young. Only five sophomores – Mallory Cowart, Heidi Garcich, Kayla McDaniel, Shannon Mosley and Mackinzee Bond – dot the 18-player roster. But those returnees saw quite a bit of playing time on last year’s club.

Like most coaches, Robinson believes the key to the team’s success starts with the pitching staff.

“The circle is probably the most important position on the field,” he said. “If you pitch well and play good defense, you will be successful. That was an area we were good at last year, but we felt we could do a little better. We think we’ve solved that problem with two freshmen we recruited.”

Those two players are both from Louisiana – Lauren Candies of Luling, La., and Hahnville High School, along with Ginger Lonergan of Dominican High School and Gretna, La.

“Lauren took Hahnville to the 5A state championship game,” said Robinson. “Ginger’s team went deep into the second round of the playoffs with Dominican and they probably should have beaten West Monroe. They are both solid. I think they can handle the stress of pitching everyday.

“They do a fantastic job for us. If I had to give the nod to someone in the first game on opening day, it would probably be Candies. But they are really 1A and 1B. We feel like those two kids will help us tremendously.”

JCJC’s lone returning pitcher is Bond, a sophomore from Vancleave. Robinson also feels comfortable with her in the circle.

“Mackinzee came in and did a heckuva job for us last year,” he said. “She had a good fall and a good spring. She is battling it out for playing time at third base, too.”

The Lady Bobcats will also look to a pair of freshmen at catcher: Jessmar Walters of West Jones and Jade McLeod of Greene County. McLeod is also a member of the Lady Bobcats’ state championship soccer team, which advanced to the NJCAA District E Tournament.

“Jessmar is a little ahead of Jade because Jade played soccer in the fall,” said Robinson. “The soccer team was within a game of making nationals, so we are very proud they were able to do that. Jessmar got a lot of reps in the fall, but Jade has caught on quickly to what we are doing.”

At first base, it’s more freshmen in the mix. Stacia Whitaker of Enterprise leads the way, while Megan Cook of Wayne County will see playing time. Candies has also taken a few reps at first base.

“Stacia is a strong kid,” said Robinson. “She is strong in the weightroom and hits with a lot of power. She has to be a little more consistent with the stick, but right now we think she will be penciled in as the No. 1 first baseman on opening day. Megan had some time off in the fall, but is picking it up in the spring. Both of them played on state championship teams in high school.”

A familiar face – Mosley – will be at second base. The Vossburg sophomore and Quitman High school product played shortstop last year, but moves to her natural position of second base this season. Enterprise freshman Haley Brooke Smith has also shined at second base during the fall and preseason.

“Shannon played probably 45 games at shortstop last year, but we’ve moved her to second,” said Robinson. “But what a difference going from being a freshman to a sophomore has made for Shannon because in the fall, we could not get her out.

“Haley Brooke would probably be starting if Mosley was not there. She is athletic and she is a kid we think on opening day will definitely be our 2-hole hitter (possible EH). She has played a little bit of left and third base during practice. We are trying to get her on the field because of the way she can handle the bat. She hits from the left side, can slap, drag and can run.”

At shortstop, Slidell, La., freshman Alex Faciane is the leader, while Stringer freshman Jessica Upton will also play.

“Alex is a really good athlete,” said Robinson. “She is gifted with a really strong arm. We want her to get a little more consistent defensively, but we feel like she is the type of kid who can play 45-47 games at short. She handles the stick well and will be around the 5-or 6-hole for us. She can really run, too.

“Jessica is a walk-on who has come out and earned a scholarship. We are really excited about having her out there and she has done everything we have asked her to do.”

Third base is a tossup between Gulfport freshman K.T. Perkins and Bond.

“I just really can’t pick a starter there right now,” said Robinson. “They are both close. It’s pretty much open, so we will probably go into a few games of the season before we declare a starter. But the competition is great between K.T. and Mackinzee.”

Cowart, a South Jones’ sophomore, returns in leftfield, while Stringer freshman Aaron Herrington is also vying for playing time. Cowart, like McLeod, missed most of fall practice because she was with the Lady Bobcat soccer team.

“If Mallory had been able to be here fulltime in the fall, I would definitely say the job is hers,” said Robinson. “Right now, she would probably get the opening day nod because of experience, but she definitely has some catching up to do. Aaron has done a very good job, but she probably needs to be a bit more consistent offensively. She is going be just fine, though.”

The Bobcats are solid in centerfield with the return of Garcich, a sophomore from Reserve, La. The Riverside Academy product was a positive factor on defense as a freshman last year and Robinson expects more of the same this season. Garcich is backed up by Columbia freshman Jasmine Jefferson.

“Heidi is our leadoff hitter and played in just about every game last year,” Robinson said. “She got hurt midway through last year with her wrist and her batting average kind of fell off a bit. But you could not tell it as far as her defensive ability. She is top-notch and I would not trade her for the world. She is a really good kid, too.

“Jasmine is a walk-on and earned a scholarship. She can really run, no doubt about it. She has come a long way, offensively and defensively. She still has a ways to go, but she can come in and steal some bases for us.”

There is more experience returning in rightfield with McDaniel, a sophomore from East Central. The Hurley native provides a steadying influence on the team and is backed up by Raleigh freshman Brittany Daniel.

“Kayla Mac kind of won the job as the season went on last year,” said Robinson. “She was in probably 35 or so games and has done a good job of trying to be a leader this year. We are expecting a lot more out of her and all of these sophomores.

“Brittany has probably been the biggest surprise for us. She has come in and done a very good job defensively. She may be as good defensively as any outfielder we have. She has a really strong arm. Offensively, she has got a little work to do. But we think she will play in quite a few games this year.”

Overall, Robinson clearly sees a difference between last year’s team that went 16-33 and this year’s squad.

“We are certainly more athletic,” he said. “The kids are working really, really hard, too. I am very pleased with them at this point. I think the strength of the team will be in the circle with the two kids we brought in from Louisiana. I think our defense will be a strength, too. We’ve got some kids that can run and cover some ground.

“I don’t know how many runs we will score, but I think our offense will be better. How many wins and losses that turns into, I don’t know.”

Robinson hopes the improvements will translate into enough victories to qualify for the playoffs. The top four teams from the South and North divisions qualify for the MACJC Tournament. That will be an eight-team, single-elimination affair.

And as added incentive, the South Division champion will host the state tournament.

“Our goal is to certainly make the state playoffs,” said Robinson. “If you can get hot at the tournament and win three games, you will get a state championship trophy to take back to your president.  Our goal is to get there and see what happens.”

But Robinson knows making the top four in division play is a task in itself.

Co-Lin Community College is rated No. 10 and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is ranked No. 12 in the NJCAA preseason poll. Pearl River Community College won the state tournament last year, while East Central and Gulf Coast both advanced to the NJCAA nationals. East Central finished fourth in the national tournament.

“The South Division in women’s softball is as competitive as any junior college division of any sport in the state,” Robinson said. “Pearl River was a four-seed and won the state last year. We swept East Central last year and they go on to finish fourth in the nation. Southwest finished fifth in the division last year, but we went 0-4 against them. They had a very good team. Hinds finished seventh last year, but they knocked off Gulf Coast.

“No doubt, we want to make the state tournament. But it will be tough. You have to show up and play.”

After the state tournament, the top five teams head to the Region 23 Tournament in Clinton. LSU-Eunice is an automatic qualifier in the six-team regionals. The top two teams from the regionals advance to nationals.

“That’s a plus, taking the top two teams to the nationals,” added Robinson.

Bob Herrington returns for his second season as an assistant coach, while Brittney Pigott is in her first year as a Lady Bobcat assistant coach.

“I’ve got two assistants who help me out tremendously,” said Robinson. “They do a great job and make it much easier for me.”

The Lady Bobcats are now ready for the season opener against Holmes. Robinson said his bunch is anxious to get started.

“We’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “We are pleased with what we have seen regarding some areas where we had question marks. We did a good job of recruiting last year and got some help in those areas.

“We are just looking forward to Feb. 9 and a chance to see a different colored jersey.”

The second game vs. Holmes on opening day will have a live audiocast on with Lance Pittman on the call. Airtime is 4:25 p.m. Other games to be announced will air throughout the season.


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