Aug. 6—SEQUOYAH — The Lady Eagles' softball program has endured some valleys in recent years.
Sequoyah is 30-59 since 2019, though one highlight came in 2020 when the team reached the regional final. Unfortunately, all the starters from that group have graduated.
With not much talent returning from last season's 10-20 squad, 2022 could be another difficult year for the Lady Eagles. They are young and sport a roster that includes only one senior — Konstance Flores.
Sequoyah will be forced to rely on athleticism rather than experience during at least the early stages of the season, but coach Brandon Green said he believes this group has a chance to be competitive.
For him, wins and losses won't define the 2022 campaign. What will, though, is how much improvement the underclassmen experience through the two-month season.
That youth has a chance to set the tone for Sequoyah softball for years to come.
"There's a lot of unanswered things right now," Green said. "We have a lot of youth, a lot of inexperience when it comes to playing at the varsity level and against that age of girls. We only have one senior, and she's probably just a part-time starter, kind of a role player for us. We're going to be starting two or three freshmen, three or four sophomores and a couple of juniors, so just not a lot of experience, but we have some decent athleticism. We got a new pitcher on the mound and a freshman catcher, so I'm sure there's gonna be some good games, and I'm sure there's gonna be some bad games. We need to just try to learn from it and get better."
Key Question: Can Sequoyah replace Sidney Roland?
Roland was a three-year starter in the circle for the Lady Eagles, and she was also a key contributor to the offense.
She started in 91 games from 2019-2021, pitching over 465 innings while accumulating a record of 25-46. Roland notched 426 strikeouts on 8,018 pitches during that time with an ERA of 5.110.
Offensively, she registered a batting average of .379 through four years and a total of 66 RBIs. Last year, she batted .520 with 39 hits, including 10 doubles, five triples and four home runs. None of her teammates had more than 15 hits.
"If there was one person that could do it all for us, that was Sidney last year, so she's surely going to be missed," Green said. "We're not gonna be able to replace her in any way, shape or form."
With only three innings of pitching experience returning, Green will look to Reagan Hanson, a sophomore move-in from California, to take over in the circle.
JoJo Stinnett could also be an option, but expect Hanson to shoulder most of the pitching duties much like Roland did.
"We're just gonna see what she's got when she's pitching with confidence," Green said. "She's got pretty good stuff, and we're just gonna have to see with her and how she's gonna react when things aren't going well and stuff like that. I'm looking for some quality innings, and we're kind of gonna have to rely on her quite a bit this year because she's our best one in the circle by far."
At the plate, look for Molly Sortore, Gracie Baldridge and Stinnett to be the team's primary hitters. Sortore and Baldridge tied for second on the team in 2021 with 15 hits apiece while Stinnett had 12.
Key Returners: Stinnett, Alyssa Yeubanks, Baldridge, Flores
Stinnett, Yeubanks and Baldridge are all juniors who started last year and are expected to play major roles again as utility players. Baldridge will be the third baseman while the other two will mainly roam the outfield.
"I'm looking to have a little bit of leadership and some good stuff from them this year," Green said of Stinnett and Yeubanks. "They pretty much only have one year of varsity experience, and that was last year. Then we have Gracie Baldridge, she would be another key returner that I would expect with JoJo and Alyssa to kind of be the leaders on the team this year."
Elsewhere, Flores is the team's only senior and will be an anchor in leadership while playing wherever she is needed.
"She's a good contact hitter at the plate," Green said. "She can execute a bunt most of the time. She can play some first base for us if we need to move some other girls around. She's a really great teammate, just a good kid. She's a 'do whatever we ask her to do' type of player."
Sortore, a sophomore who Green calls one of Sequoyah's best players, will be the starting shortstop.
Key Game(s): Every game
When simply improving is the main objective of the season, picking out games as proverbial measuring sticks becomes a futile effort.
Green said the Lady Eagles are going to play good and bad teams throughout the year, and though there will probably be more of the former, each game will be a testament to how much they've grown and improved.
"I'm not really looking at the schedule," Green said. "As far as wins and losses, I'm looking to see if we're going to keep getting better because we're so young, and we're just going to have to keep plugging away. Class 3A and 4A, which is most of the teams that we play, that's a really good brand of softball here in Oklahoma. There's a lot of tough teams in those two classes. With the teams around that are in 4A, it's just really high-quality softball, so it's gonna be tough. With the youth we got, we're gonna have to see how we kind of respond to some of that and to see where we're at. With youth, a lot of times there's a lot of uncertainty. You don't know what you're gonna get every time out because you're so young, and you haven't seen them a lot and haven't had that experience.
"Every game is going to be kind of a test to see how we're going to do and if we can do it consistently."