POPLARVILLE – The Pearl River Community College softball charted unfamiliar waters in 2017, missing out on the MACJC playoffs after eight consecutive years in the postseason.
Getting back in the playoffs will depend on how a talented, but untested, group of freshmen meld with a solid corps of sophomores.
PRCC returns 13 players from last season’s team that finished 19-23 overall, 11-17 in the MACJC.
“I think we’re going to be OK,” said Leigh White, who enters her 16th season as coach of the Wildcats.
“We have a good core of players coming back, and we’re looking for a lot of leadership from them to help our freshmen get to where we want to be.”
Chief among these are infielder Ilyssa Easton (Hurley), who earned first team All-MACJC honors after leading Pearl River in hitting (.377), home runs (12), RBIs (30) and steals (14).
Easton started every game for PRCC at second base, as did returning sophomore shortstop Sarah Depperschmidt (Hurley). Depperschmidt, who signed with Belhaven after batting .258 last season, will be out for at least the first couple of games recovering from an offseason injury.
The Wildcats also have Destiny Wesley (LaPlace, La.) returning at third base after suffering a season-ending injury just four games into the season.
PRCC also picked up a transfer from Southern Miss, sophomore Halle Melone (Oklahoma City, Okla.), who is expected to find a spot in the lineup.
“We’re real excited about our infield,” said White. “We’ve got some depth, especially at first base. (Sophomore) Rylee Dawsey is in the mix there. Her bat is really coming around lately.”
In the outfield, Pearl River return second-team All-State centerfielder Anna Grace Cooley (Lucedale), who batted .375 out of the leadoff spot in the batting order in 2017. However, White said she is looking at several options for Cooley on offense.
“She can do a lot of things,” White said. “She may slap for us, and she’s got some speed. We’re looking at her in a leadoff role, but we have some other options with her as well.”
IN softball, pitching is paramount, and there the Wildcats have questions.
“Our pitching staff is going to be young, but I think they’re going to produce,” said White. “We’ve got four kids that we’re going to use in our rotation and three of them are freshmen.”
The Wildcats return two pitchers from last season in sophomore Olivia Holley (Biloxi), who was 6-11 last season, despite a 3.49 earned-run average, and Krista Robles (Destrehan, La.), who was 4-2 with a 4.98 ERA. Robles also played first base and batted .351 with 21 RBIs.
However, Robles will probably concentrate on offense this season. That leaves Holley to mesh with freshmen Rylee Swilley (Kiln), Dallas Blaker (Bay St. Louis) and Elizabeth Taggart (Saucier).
“Rylee Swilley has come a long way since the fall,” said White. “Once she gets some experience, she’s going to be really good.
“It looks like Elizabeth Taggart’s role is going to be coming and relieving, maybe as the closer. But we’re going to use all four of our pitchers this year.”
Pearl River opens its 2018 season Saturday at the Pensacola State (Fla.) Invitational. The Wildcats will play Florence-Darlington Tech (S.C.) at 11 a.m. and Roane State (Tenn.) at 1 p.m.
The Wildcats make their home debut next Thursday with two games against Coastal Alabama-North at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the opening games of the Wildcat Invitational.
PRCC will not play on Friday in the tournament, but will have two games on Saturday, at 11 a.m. against Calhoun (Ala.) and 3 p.m. against Marion Military (Ala.)