By Jim Perry
The second season of slow-pitch softball at Cushing High School has a tough act to follow.
Lady Tiger coach Nikki York thinks she has the goods to do just that.
CHS opens its 2016 season Thursday with a split doubleheader at Bristow. The Lady tigers will play Bristow at 4 p.m. and Morris at 5:30 p.m.
Cushing in its first season of slow-pitch won 18 of 28 games. The Lady Tigers advanced to the state tournament, where they lost to eventual Class 5A champion Valliant.
“Our goal this year is to get back to the state tournament,” York said. “Once you get there, anything can happen.
“We definitely have the team to get us back there. We just have to outwork our opponents all season long.”
Five seniors lead a returning cast of players.
“We have five returning seniors — Hannah Ailey, Kayla Vasquez, Ribbin Anderson, Megan Stump and Josie Hood — who last year made a big impact on the amount of success we had both offensively and defensively,” York said.
“I think this group of seniors have something to prove and I think with this being their last sport or season to ever play in high school, they are going to make it their best yet.
“I’m excited to get going.”
The five seniors are among 23 players competing for roster spots at CHS. Thirteen of them are freshmen.
Riley Payne, Jolie Boyle and Kennedy Holderread played extensively during the fall fast-pitch season.
“Riley Payne and Jolie Boyle have both been practicing in the outfield and should get some varsity time,” York said. “Kennedy Holderread played second base all year for us in fast pitch and I expect her to fill that spot. She is a solid player who knows the game.”
The rookies, she said, must learn on the fly.
“We have a great group of young kids who will all contribute to making us successful as a team. The starting lineup is going to be whoever is hitting the ball well.
“In slow pitch, you just have to outhit your opponents because everyone is going to hit the ball. We have got to find 10 girls who can hit the ball hard consistently and put them on the field.”
Cushing has only one junior, Sterling Koehn. She should provide power at the plate for the Lady Tigers, York said.
York said she is looking for four sophomores — Taylor Short, Megan Lee, Jade Ostrowski and Jenna Hood — “to step up this spring.”
Hood is vying to become Cushing’s staring pitcher. So is Ostroski, who also plays in the outfield. York called Lee “a strong hitter.”
“Taylor Short is a solid outfielder and Jenna Hood is very versatile and will be playing wherever we need her to,” York said.
Almost all who played fast pitch in the fall are out for slow pitch this spring, York said.
“These girls have done well with buying into seeing how much slow pitch can make them better and it sure has helped that we were very successful the first year we had it.”
Cushing’s games on Thursday are its only dates before spring break. The Lady Tigers host Beggs and Blackwell on March 22 for their home opener. The season includes trips to tournaments in Harrah and Shawnee. The regular season ends April 25 at Davenport.