SOFTBALL: Generals hope to back up last year’s run

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Thomas Nelson Generals softball team profile

By Dennis George

The results were predictable.

After starting a St. Catharine College softball program from scratch and ultimately winning a national championship, there was no question about Holly Smith’s coaching abilities.

Combine that with a group of Thomas Nelson players with a burning desire to improve, Smith and her team managed to make history at the school in just two years.

They won more games than they lost in 2018 (14-10), the first time that’s happened since the school opened. Thomas Nelson also made its only trip to the regional tournament after finishing as 19th District runners-up.

The pressure is now on the team to continue that success, but most of the parts are in place to make that happen.

“We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were when I started three years ago,” Smith said. “You can really see this in our defense. We are more fundamentally sound and more confident than ever.”

Thomas Nelson will have to overcome the loss of pitching ace Kaillee Miller, who is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. She was also the team’s best hitter with a .492/.554/.923 slash line last year and produced team-high totals in runs (27), RBIs (23), doubles (8) and homers (6).

Sophomore Jenna Minter will be counted on to replace Miller. She had a 5-2 record last season and pitched the title game of the district tournament, an 8-3 loss to Washington County.

“I believe Jenna has really stepped up to the challenge,” senior shortstop Riane Clark said. “Everyone on the field behind her is motivating her to do a good job, and I believe she will.”

Senior Nicole Reed will also pitch but will spend most of her time in the outfield.

Senior Emily Cammack, a Transylvania University signee, will be behind the plate.

“She is such a smooth catcher and is assertive behind the plate,” Smith said. She brings great knowledge and skill and she has worked diligently to grow into that position.”

Cammack was the team’s second-best hitter a year ago with her .375 average.

Smith has several options on the right side of her infield.

Sophomores Allyson Newton and Kaylee Reynolds will be there most of the time. Newton is a versatile player and could play other positions.

“Her ability to hit and her growth on defense will keep her in the lineup,” Smith said.

She will also play second base, sharing the spot with classmate Aricka Jackson.

A pair of veterans, including Clark, will be on the left side of the infield.

“Riane is a player that has always carried out the program, team and self mentality that we continue to build here as a Lady General softball player,” Smith said. “Seeing her growth in my three seasons has been so inspiring. She has always been a strong and mature individual outside of softball, but last season we saw that same strength and confidence shine on the field.”

Clark admits she can be her own worst enemy.

“I am my own worst critic,” she said. “I am hard on myself.”

Sydney Gagel is only a sophomore, but she played third base most of last year. Smith said she is the type of player who can elevate the team’s play.

“She eats, sleeps, and breathes softball,” the coach said.

Sophomores Payton League and Lily Unseld will join Reed and Newton in the outfield. Several other young players are vying for time there.

“I would say one of our struggles is our continued lack of numbers,” Smith said. “Sometimes, players don’t want to make the commitment it requires for a competitive, growing program.”

The Generals have missed Miller’s bat this season, struggling to a 1-4 start after being shut out three times. They have shown some signs of waking up, though, getting their first win of the season on Saturday, 16-15 over Hart County, in a game that saw Reed go 5-for-5 and Cammack go 4-for-5.

Clark says the mentality Smith has created will pay dividends.

“She has everyone thinking about the team and not themselves,” Clark said. “She has been very good for the program.”

The coach knows a few losses in the opening week of the season will not matter in May.

“If we can find ways to score runs, and #Win The Day every day, the District Tournament should be another fun one,” Smith said.

Thomas Nelson hosts Nelson County today to start district play.