Cathedral looking to replace four starters from last year’s team
NATCHEZ — After being one win away from a MHSAA Class 1A state championship last season, the Cathedral High School softball team will have a much different look this season.
Gone are pitcher/infielder Ginny Daggett and infielder Beth Fortenbery, who graduated last spring. Third baseman Peyton Monticello moved away, and outfielder Shannon Mire opted not to play this spring.
“We’re a lot different this year,” senior pitcher Mollie Devening said. “We’re not bad, but it’s going to be more difficult to make it as far as we did.”
Head coach Gary Blackwell also said things are much different than they were a season ago, when Cathedral finished 22-8-1 with a regional championship and a state championship berth before falling to Smithville High School in three games. Losing almost the entire infield will be a big adjustment, he said.
“We’re really looking for (players) to fill some spots,” Blackwell said. “Three transferred in — Sydney Raines, Christina Givens and Mary Kate Huber — so that helped. We were rotating 10 or 11 last year, so we have some younger girls ready to move up and fill spots.”
With Daggett gone, Devening will anchor a pitching staff that also includes eighth-grader Elizabeth Smith. While Smith is lacking in varsity experience, her pedigree coming in is impressive. She was a member of the Vidalia 14 and under All-Star team that went to the Little League Southwest Region Tournament in Santa Fe, N.M.
“She’ll do well for us, she just needs experience,” Blackwell said. “We’ll play enough games before district to get her in.”
And having Devening around for another season will help with Smith’s development, Blackwell added.
“She’ll talk to the younger ones and encourage and help them,” Blackwell said. “It’s always good to have good role models like we do with our seniors.”
Devening said her best advice for Smith will be to fight through the rough times when she’s on the mound.
“I know what it’s like to play in a game when you’re that young,” said Devening, who’s been pitching for Cathedral since the seventh grade. “The main thing is you can’t get down on yourself. It gets better. It’s not always going to be you struggling on the mound.”
Adjusting to a new group of infielders will also be tough, Devening said. Only senior Mckenzie Milligan returns, and she’s made the move from first base to shortstop.
“It’s a big adjustment,” Devening said. “It’s going to take some time for everyone to get adjusted to how we all play. Before, (the old group) had been playing together since we were little. Hopefully it won’t take long to adjust.”
Milligan said there’s a world of difference between first base and shortstop, and the adjustment has been difficult so far.
“At shortstop, you have to move around more,” Milligan said. “You’re reaction is quicker, and you have to pay more attention when the ball is hit.”
While there’s more pressure at shortstop, Milligan said she will rely on her teammates, especially whoever’s on the mound.
“I usually just depend on the pitcher to get me a grounder I can catch,” Milligan said.
Despite the adjustments, Blackwell said he’s been pleased with the team’s defense so far in practice. Offensively, he said the hitters have a little ways to go.
“We have to get reps and swing the bats against live pitching,” Blackwell said. “I think we’ll come around. From what I’ve seen in the cage and (on the field), we’ll be alright.”
Cathedral will open its season Saturday in the Salem High School Tournament.