The unsuspecting rain this week throughout the region put Oak Hill’s summer softball games on hold, but as head coach Marion Bratton explained, it wasn’t the first obstacle they needed to overcome.
The Lady Raiders were all set to play in a league with surrounding teams at the sports complex in Starkville, but after teams pulled out and decided to play close to home, Oak Hill did the same. Working with a few area teams, the group decided to do a home and home series.
“It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but it was all we could do on short notice,” Bratton said. “We had some scheduling conflicts.”
Monday’s double-header victories over Starkville Academy, 4-3 and 8-2, were just two of a handful of games the girls have been able to get in. The games scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday were rained out. The team is scheduled to start practice around July 18 with the first game slated against Heritage Academy weeks later.
The 18-manned roster has just five seniors sprinkled in it and will have a tough 25-26 game schedule, not including Saturday tournaments which Bratton said could give them as many as 30 games.
“We’re a little rusty because we just haven’t played enough,” Bratton said. “We did get some practice time in, but there are several girls this year that have never played for me before.”
With some players living in Houston and Okalona, it’s hard to make practices on a regular basis. But throw in extra-curricluar activities and sometimes there is just no way around it. Bratton admits it can be difficult at times.
“It’s hard to get them all here,” he said. “It’s tough when you have church camp, basketball, vacations and academic sessions. There’s a little bit of everything going on.”
The one’s that do stay active with softball, like taking pitching lessons on the side, make it easier for any coach to get back into the right mindset come July and August. And for Bratton, he’s looking to find the right pieces to puzzle early. He said there are a few holes in the lineup that he’s wanting to fill. “I was looking this summer to move some folks around and build some depth,” he said. “Try and find out who can help me, who can come and courtesy run. I’ve got some ideas, but I’m not settled on a lineup just yet. It’s a little bit too early.”
The biggest concern for Oak Hill will be in the outfield, two of three starters need to be replaced.
On the mound, The Lady Raiders will have the tag team of junior Mamie Allen and sophomore Megan Ellis, who last season as a freshman won some huge ball games when their backs were against the wall.
The conference schedule will arguably be one of the toughest in 2011 after the MAIS did some reshuffling of the teams; gone is Carroll Academy and added are Canton Academy, Immanuel Christian School and current AA state champion Leake Academy.
“Manchester and Canton are both solid ball clubs,” Bratton said. “So with Leake thrown in there, wow. That’s going to be tough.” When it’s all said and done, only two can make it to the post-season. Oak Hill has been there three of the last five seasons.
“There’s not much room for error,” he said. “It’s basically a short season. If your not in the playoffs by the third week of September, your season’s pretty much over.”
Oak Hill will need to cram in at least a dozen games before school starts to try and get a head start and get as many wins as possible early on. Fortunately for the Lady Raiders, experience is on their side with several veterans who have been there since junior high.
With so many veterans and senior leadership, along with a great pair of arms, Bratton is looking forward to another successful season.
“It’ll be interesting,” he said. “There will definitely be pressure in every conference ball game this year. We’ve got to be prepared.”