Neosho’s Shayla Schaper

ROBERT MAGOBET

College softball season is finally here, and Neosho County Community College has jumpstarted the season on the road.

The Lady Panthers went to Oklahoma Wesleyan on Feb. 7 and won those two games, the first of which was a 7-3 victory before a 14-6 triumph in Game 2. The next day, NCCC lost 15-11 to Rose State before falling short in Game 2 13-0. 

On Tuesday, NCCC traveled to Ponca City High School to take on Northern Oklahoma, and those results will be in the Tribune later this week.

While the team has already played several games, eighth-year head coach Kim Alexander, along with assistant coach Bailey Burnett, are still tinkering with the lineup that features a majority of freshmen and just four returning student-athletes from a team that went 18-23 and lost in the second round of the Region 6 playoffs in Topeka a year ago.

NCCC lost All-Conference players Sierra Spurlock, Kaelee Escoe, Kinsley Stewart and Alyssa Rogers. Spurlock went on to play softball at Newman, while Stewart went to play at Pittsburg .

In Game 1, Alexander started sophomore left-handed pitcher Ryleigh Chaffin, a Wichita native. Chaffin is productive at spinning the ball. While she won’t blow the pitch by anyone, she will keep hitter off balance, which means she can be utilized as a pitcher to keep NCCC in ballgames or to close out opponents.

“We have a very good pitching staff and they work well off each other,” Alexander said. “We haven’t solidified the one, two, three or the four (pitchers).”

Freshman right-handed pitcher out of Arvada, Colo., Cassidy Paulson, can pitch with speed and she spins it well.

With Paulson and Chaffin feeding off each other, Alexander will also use freshman right-handed pitcher Jenna Reed, also out of Wichita, who pitches with velocity while spinning well. 

Freshman utility pitcher from Liberal, Meaghan McClure, will also be pitching. McClure doesn’t have as much speed on her pitches, but she can spin it exceptionally, which keeps batters guessing.

At the catching positions will be freshman Nevada, Mo.-native Cameron Holcomb, who Alexander said is a really good leader, using her knowledge of the game to galvanize NCCC. Freshman Mikaela Dickenson out of Iola, Texas will be suiting up as a catcher as well.

If Chaffin isn’t pitching, Alexander plans on using her talents to play first base. Reed will also play first, as well as freshman Mallory Gazaway, from Liberal, Mo.

Although these players have been giving it their all at these positions early on in the season, Alexander said second and third base players are up in the air.

“I don’t have anything specific for catcher, pitcher, first, second or third. Right now, it’s all up in the air. I haven’t solidified a top nine because the first people that played Game 1, weren’t the same people that played Game 2,” Alexander continued. “The first people that played Game 1 didn’t start Game 1 against Rose, so right now, I don’t have what you consider a top nine. Right now, we are trying to figure out who is going to be the best. Who’s going to swing or walk for us, who’s going to play well behind defense, who steps up and things like that?”

Alexander will likely have sophomore Independence native Shayla Schaper in the outfield; she is good at tracking the ball down as well as throwing the ball back to the infield. Freshman Karley Crowe from Carthage, Mo., who is leading off as of right now, will also play the outfield, while Paulson and freshman Ark City native Kirsten Birdwell will also play in the outfield.

Interchangeable talent aside, the Lady Panthers will look to have their first winning season since 2015. Alexander said if that were to happen, it will be because of the hitting from her players, though the other aspects of the game will likely contribute, too.

“Just watching us these past couple of days, it’s probably going to be offensively – we swung it very well,” Alexander said. 

“As long as we can maintain that, we’ll do well. I think we have a good pitching and catching staff. That’s something that if we had one or two of last year, I think we are going to Nationals. We were definitely able to get those girls in, both pitching and catching. I think if they stay strong and healthy, with the offense that we have behind them, I think we will do well.”

Another aspect that will help NCCC through the year is depth.

“We have a little more depth this year and that’s going to help us out tremendously,” Alexander noted. “We have a little bit of a mixture. We have more people that we can move around, so it’s not going to be strictly third baseman or strictly shortstop, it’s going to be that we can move around.”

With players to move around on the fly, Alexander will keep her goals in mind. 

She said it is a goal to advance to Nationals and to be a top-five team in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, among other goals.

“Individually, I want my girls to have a good GPA, I want them to graduate, that’s what I look for them,” Alexander noted. “I want them to have honors as well as All-Conference and All-Region. We should have a couple All-Americans this year.”

NCCC’s next games will be versus Independence (1-1) Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 3 and 5 pm at home.

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