It’s truly a rebuilding year for the Conway Lady Cats’ softball team.
Conway (1-6) graduated eight of its nine starters off last year’s state tournament ballclub, and five of those girls are contributing as freshmen on college teams this season.
The Lady Cats have been known for their strong pitching, but now there are some new faces that’ll get thrown into the fire when Conway enters its brutal 7A-Central Conference schedule.
"We knew it was gonna be tough because we lost those girls to graduation and all of our pitching," Conway coach Chad Longing said. "We fell in here and got to work on the word go. We’re just having to grow up quicker than we wanted too. You’re looking at three or four girls who have never pitched and assistant coach (Chata) Hickey has been very motivated in making this a staff. I can’t say enough about her and what she’s done. If you could see our pitching in June and then look at it now, you’ll be very surprised. We’ve come a long way and it’s been great."
Longing said they are pitching by committee starting with junior Hannah Cooper and sophomore Morgan Setzler.
"Hannah Cooper is an outfielder by trade," Longing said. "She’s a girl that took an interest and was willing to say give me the ball, I’ll try, and I go after them as best as I can. We’re trying to split those two girls up per game. They’re handling the majority of the load, and then I have a sophomore that has come on real fast named Paige Liles. Confidence is being born everytime these girls go out and the jitterbugs are about gone."
Freshman Taylor Kuhn, junior Emily Gould (catcher), Setzler (second), sophomore Mallory Brooks (third), are the new faces at positions on the infield for the Lady Cats.
"Mallory is a good third baseman as a matter of fact," Longing said. "We moved Jordan Yandell to shortstop and she’s another one of those sophomores. She got plenty of reps last year as a freshman."
Conway has two athletes working at right field, junior Tori Cescarini and freshman Abby Engelkes. The other two positions are held by the only two seniors on the team. The centerfielder is Chelsea Cowles and the left field position is held down by Alexis Robertson.
"It’s been very hands-on this season," Longing said. "We went back to basically softball 101. I’m having to review notes and say stuff that I haven’t had to say the past year-and-a half or two years. We’ve kind of went back to the basics and we’re trying to develop a foundation, so we’ll have a strong foundation for the future. The speed of the game is just so much faster than your rec league or travel squad, so we’ve been teaching the hustling aspects of it."
Longing said their first three in the batting order are the team’s slappers, with speed. Each one of them bats left-handed as well.
"They can either bunt or run and slap," Longing said. "They have some wheels. They just read the defense and goes from there. Freshman Taylor Kuhn has been batting in the four-hole and she has some pop. She’s not a runner sort of speak, but she drives the ball. ... Once the confidence continues to develop, then we like one through nine."
Conway opens conference play this Thursday on the road at Mount St. Mary before travelling to Cabot for a March 30 game.