Eagles hope for return to Murfreesboro

Mar. 07, 2014 @ 12:38 PM

 When new softball coach Jess Sterling arrived at Seymour High School, one of her first goals was to institute a new weight program as part of her “change is good” theme.

That doesn’t mean it was going to be easy.

“It was hard,” said catcher Reid Ballard. “We weren’t used to that. I jumped in. We were doing weights and running miles. I was like, ‘This is kind of hard and I’m not used to this.’ It was different. We are a lot stronger. Lifting weights, it’s helped us a lot with our hitting and our strength.”

The Eagles are starting to see the impact of all that work in the weight room this preseason. Sterling, the former coach at Pigeon Forge, takes over a team that made the state tournament a year ago and is loaded with young talent. Seymour has eight sophomores, including Ballard, a UT-Martin commit, and pitchers Miranda Duncan and Sam Trentham.  The junior-less Eagles boast five seniors as well, including Tennessee signee Lauren Irwin.

“Luckily at Pigeon Fore a couple years ago, I had a big class,” Sterling said. “You just have to manage their personalities. If they blend well, good things happen. That’s a lot of talent in eight kids. They’re all good and they’re all good at different things.”

Irwin said she knows she’ll have to be a leader on this team and Sterling has already pegged her for that role on defense and batting leadoff. Irwin embraced the offseason weight program and said it should not only prepare her for Division I softball next year but help her team get back to Murfreesboro.

“I think our stamina should be a lot better,” Irwin said. “We should be more powerful hitting. We lost Carly (Lewis) in the lineup last year, and we’ve been having to try to fill that spot. She was a big spot in the circle but she was also a big stick.”

Of course, replacing Lewis, now a freshman at Georgia College, in the pitching department is critical as well. Duncan and Trentham will fill that role but Sterling said she’s been adamant that no one can “replace” Lewis. Instead, she’s encouraging her pitchers to just pitch and let the defense do the work behind them.

Duncan said that if the defense can just communicate a little better, the Eagles will be just fine.

“That was our biggest thing this past weekend,” Duncan said. “But once we get that figured out, I think we’ll be really good, really hard to beat. … I think it’s just practicing to be honest. I think we need to practice on it a lot more.”

Duncan will have some help behind the plate in Ballard, who she has been throwing to for years. The pitcher said she’s confident in Ballard’s ability to call a game and trusts her teammate when she points out things Duncan can’t see.

Sterling said Ballard acts as her sounding board during games, too, with a softball intelligence that defies her young age. It’s the microcosm of the 2014 Eagles: Young, but talented.

“Eight sophomores,” Ballard said. “It’s going to be great. It’s just fun. We all think the same. We have the same classes together so we can talk about softball anytime we want to talk about it. It’s just great having all sophomores because you’ve grown up with them.”