TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

March 12, 2013

Team to Beat

North Laurel enters 2013 season ranked fifth in state

By Chris Parsons
The Times-Tribune

NORTH LAUREL — After an impressive run in 2012 that ended with a 9-8 loss to Lone Oak in the state tournament, this year’s version of the North Laurel Lady Jaguars softball team has some unfinished business.

The Lady Jaguars come into the 2013 season not only as the team to beat in the 13th Region, but as the No. 5 team in the state behind (in order) Owensboro Catholic, Mercy, Greenwood and Scott County.

As if the high ranking and last year’s state tournament run wasn’t enough, North Laurel returns eight starters from last season. With six seniors heading up this year’s squad, Lady Jaguars coach Rogers Strong said expectations may be high this year, but he admitted the work still had to be done.

“We feel real comfortable with the kids we have coming back,” Strong said. “We have eight full-time starters back and a part-time starter, so we have plenty of experience, so we feel like this could really be a special year.

“The thing about it is that trips to the state tournament aren’t just handed to you because you’re ranked high,” he added. “We will have our work cut out for us because you have to go out and win games, but we feel confident that if these kids go out and play the way they are capable of playing, this can be a great season for them.”

The highly touted senior group consists of Megan Baldwin, Sidney Harrell, Blake Johnson, Emily Sears, Vanessa Smith and Farris Strong. The majority of this group has been in the North Laurel program for quite some time. Strong said it’s that dedication that has helped

“Megan (Baldwin) is our number one pitcher and she had an outstanding year last season,” Strong said. “She’s worked hard in the offseason to get better in her off-speed stuff, so we think she can really be good for us this season.

“Our catcher, Blake Johnson, has started for five years behind the plate, which is unusual,” he added. “With her and Megan at the battery, we expect them to hold things down quite well for us.”

With Baldwin pitching, the Lady Jaguars shouldn’t need much defense. Last season, the team only allowed 1.8 runs per game, while the team notched 17 shutouts on the season. In the 12 games against 13th Region foes, the Lady Jaguars held opponents scoreless in eight of them.

Offensively, North Laurel scores 6.8 rpg, setting the tone early and often as 21 of its 38 wins were by five runs or more.

Considering last season’s success, North Laurel goes into the season in a different position than last year. Given the fact the team has had success in the past, Strong said he feels like this year’s team has more of a target on its back compared to last season.

“I feel like we were able to kind of fly under the radar at the state level last season, as far as what was expected,” he said. “After our run in the state tournament, we may be a little more recognized, which means teams are going to be a little more familiar with what we’re doing here.

“The good news is I think our kids can stand up and deal with the pressure of playing well, especially considering our schedule,” he added. “They’re going to have to hit the ground running when the season starts because we have some very tough games early on. Our kids are going to be tested from the start, so by the time postseason rolls around, we’ll know if we have what it takes to get where we want to be.”