Should high school softball be played this year, and all indications are that it will be, Walnut Grove will field one of its strongest offensive teams in school history while still having to claw to earn a spot in the state playoffs.
That’s not a knock on Walnut Grove, but rather a testament to how good the Lady Warriors’ new region is this season.
“This might be the toughest region we’ve been in from top to bottom in the history of our program,” head coach Steven Foster said. “We lost Buford as they moved up, but we have five teams in our region (Loganville, Greenbrier, Eastside, Apalachee, and Jackson County) this year that made the playoffs last year. We will have to fight for one of those top four spots to get into the playoffs this year.”
But lucky for Foster, he brings back nearly his entire starting lineup including reigning Region 8-AAAAA Player of the Year Grayson Perry and Louisiana-Lafayette commit Cassie Boatright as well as both of Walnut Grove’s starting pitchers from last year’s run to Columbus.
“We have the most experienced team coming back this year since I took over the program 4 years ago, so I think the girls are confident in what they can do, but we prepare and begin each year the same way,” Foster said. “I say this every year, but our expectation is always Columbus and the Elite 8. I’ve put together a pretty tough non-region schedule to prepare us for the playoffs, but our region schedule will prepare more this year than in years past too.”
The entire infield of Trinity Aycock (first base), Kaitlyn Johnson (second base), Boatright (short stop), Perry (third base) and catcher Nova Wright returns while outfielder Kennedy Votava gives a veteran presence in the outfield after the loss of Vanessa Wilson and Lindsey Patton to graduation.
“We pretty much have our same lineup as last year, but without Lindsey and Vanessa. I expect us to be able to produce 1-9,” Foster said. “Kaitlyn Johnson sets the tone in the leadoff spot and hit over .400 there last year as a freshman. Grayson and Cassie bring a ton of power in the heart of the lineup and when you add the other returners I feel good about what we can do offensively.”
In the circle, pitchers Jenna Yeary and Emily Byers return after earning first team All-Region honors last season. Adding more depth to the rotation will be sophomore Kendall Taylor.
“Emily Byers and Jenna Yeary will anchor our pitching staff and both bring a lot of experience. Both were first team All-Region pitchers last year and I expect both to continue that dominance this year,” Foster said. “We are also very excited to see what So Kendall Taylor can do as she was great last year at the JV level. She has a ton of potential.”
But the biggest challenge for Walnut Grove this season, as well as every team in the state, is navigating the 2020 season in the midst of a pandemic. But Foster feels like having an experienced team will help mitigate some of that uncertainty.
“We started back as soon as GHSA allowed us to, which was June 8th. In reality this is about the time we come together every year, but obviously our girls had been out of school and away from each other for months,” Foster said. “Two weeks of conditioning per GHSA guidelines helped when we started back up as it allowed us to knock off some the rust from being away for so long. Our girls did great with the changes and were happy to be back on the softball field, even if it were for just conditioning.
“We’ve always preached controlling what you can control and don’t let the uncontrollable things get in your way. I really felt like we just rolled with what was put out and continued to work every time we got together.”
Walnut Grove begins the season this week with a scrimmage against cross-county foe George Walton at home on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.