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The inaugural season of Thomas Nelson softball was cruising along better than expected a year ago when its top two pitchers went down with injuries with a month left in the season.
For a program whose roster was filled with players who had never played varsity before, the loss of its hurlers was devastating.
The Generals lost 12 of their final 14 games and finished the season with a 6-23 mark.
“I really think we could have hit double digits in wins if they hadn’t gotten hurt,” said coach Ed Phelps, who shared duties with Paul Brooks last season.
It’s a new season now and Phelps thinks that mark is even more attainable this year, despite having only two seniors and four juniors on the squad.
“We had so many players last year who had never played and that is what you get when you start a program from scratch,” he noted. “Our girls have worked hard and their softball IQ has doubled.”
Junior Olivia Rogers was one of the few experienced players last season, having started her freshman season at Nelson County before the new school opened.
“Last year, Morgan (Robinson) and I spent a lot of time working with some of the other girls who had never played,” she said. “All of our players have shown a lot of improvement and are really working hard.”
The unseasonably cold spring has made practice conditions difficult for the Generals.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to use the gym,” Phelps said. “Hopefully, before the season is finished, we will be able to use our indoor hitting facility.”
Phelps pointed out that Thomas Nelson could only muster six runs in their first five games in 2013. They have scored more than 20 this year.
Some of that is due to the long ball prowess of sophomore Taryn Roby and Robinson, each of whom have homered in the early season.
Freshman Alexis Hutchins has handled the all of the pitching duties for Phelps this season. She was injured on a comebacker last season. Roby has been pitching for the junior varsity and batted for Hutchins in varsity contest.
“Taryn took pitching lessons when she was younger, but she hasn’t played softball for a few years,” said the coach.
Phelps has been pleased in the early going with the play of Robinson, who is the team’s starting catcher.
“I am a firm believer that the catcher should be the one calling the game and Morgan has done a wonderful job of doing that,” he said. “I think she has helped Alexis immensely.”
Freshman Shelby Clark will give Robinson a break behind the plate.
Sophomore Alexa Hill will be the team’s first baseman in her first year as a starter. Phelps said that the second base position is a toss-up.
Sophomore “Michelle Mattingly was hurt last year and didn’t play softball,” he said. “She played basketball this year and we just got her. Jessica Roby has played some at second as well.”
Rogers returns to play shortstop for the Generals and will also see some time behind the plate.
Noel Hack was the other pitcher besides Hutchins who was injured last year. After suffering a broken toe when struck by a ball, she has moved to third base. Fellow sophomore Tiffany Roberts will back up Hack and Rogers in the infield.
Allison Powers and Taylor Sims are the only seniors on the team and will play center field and left field, respectively. Two of the team’s 11 sophomores, Kelsey Cooke and Alexis Davis, can play any position in the outfield, Phelps noted.
While Bethlehem and Nelson County expected to be the powers of the 19th District, Phelps hopes that Thomas Nelson can continue to make strides.
“We want to be competitive this year and I think we can be,” he said. “My job is to lay a foundation for the program and I think we are getting there.”
The Generals are 1-7 after a 13-3 loss Monday at Campbellsville. They’ll be in action again Saturday in the Hart County Invitational against the host Raiders.