On Monday, the Oak Hill Lady Raiders kick off their season with a trip to Starkville Academy.
The Lady Raiders share a conference with Winston, Manchester, Canton and Leake Academies.
Leake Academy begins the season on the heels of a 70-game winning streak and back-to-back state championships.
“Everybody in our conference is playing for second,” Oak Hill coach Marion Bratton said. “Their pitcher is one of the top ranked pitchers in the state and she’s a good hitter and an excellent runner, too. It seems like it takes her about three steps to get to first out of the box.”
The Lady Raiders will also have to contend with defending conference runner-ups Canton Academy, who returns all but three starters from a year ago.
“They’ve got a good pitcher, too,” Bratton said. “A lot of games, it’s really gonna be about supporting your pitcher and whoever supports the pitcher the best will win. (Oak Hill pitcher) Mamie (Allen) is as good as anybody in the conference.”
Oak Hill lost six starters from a team that finished 13-11 a season ago.
“We’re all really close,” senior Meg McBrayer said. “Our pitching is strong and our offense is gonna be pretty good. We’ve got some strong hitters.”
The Lady Raiders have six seniors-Jackie Gates, McBrayer, Mamie Allen, Jessi Cole, Kim Kelly and Jessica Ryan-but the 20 member squad has 11 players who are freshmen are younger.
“We have more leaders (this year),” Allen said. “I think we’re just behind each other more and we’re not afraid to boost each other up.”
The Oak Hill squad will be led by MIAA Top 15 selection, junior infielder Maegen Ellis.
“(Ellis) is a great athlete,” Bratton said. “She led us in RBI, hits, stolen bases, you name it.”
McBrayer will be sharing catching duties with sophomore Kelci Jo Langford.
“Meg is gonna develop behind the plate,” Bratton said. “She doesn’t have much catching experience but she has all the tools to be a really good catcher.”
The Lady Raiders begin conference play in their home opener against Winston Academy on August 2 at home.
“I told the girls, ‘We have to make all the routine plays and a few great plays,’” Bratton said. “If we do that, we’ll have a successful year, but we can’t afford to make mistakes.
“We have to make plays behind Mamie, because she’s not gonna strike them all out. But if she (Allen) comes out throwing and our defense comes through, we’ll have a successful season.”
First pitch for the Lady Raiders on Monday is 4 p.m. for the varsity squad and 5:30 p.m. for the junior varsity. First pitch for the home opener against Winston is 5 p.m. for varsity, followed by junior varsity at 6:30.
“We just want to make it further than we did last year,” Allen said. “We made it to our last game and the season just stopped.”