POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River softball is set to begin its season Tuesday when the Wildcats face off against Coastal Alabama-South at Wildcat Stadium in Poplarville.
The Wildcats are entering their second season under head coach Christie Meeks and with their last season being cut significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic Meeks is looking for the Wildcats to break out in 2021.
"Our mood is ready to play," Meeks said. "The girls are ready to see competition other than themselves and see how we stack up. We are excited about the new season and don't want to take anything for granted. We are all being very proactive and cautious in trying to stay healthy. The girls are correcting the little things and staying focused. It's a big deal for them to get an opportunity to play."
Pearl River was 8-12 in 2020 before the season was cut short due to COVID.
"Last year, I learned a lot about where we fell," Meeks said. "We've got to be tough mentally and we have to continuously grow every single day and I see that in this group of girls. One of the biggest things we talk about is energy and 'being smothering.' Let's be smothering in the dugout, on the bases, at bat and on defense. Let's play for each other and with each other.
"This group in learning from what happened last year, I think they will not take their opportunity to be out here for granted."
Meeks thinks Wildcat fans are going to see an improved product starting with the leadership from some of her sophomores.
"We think this group has some really great leaders," Meeks said. "Kaitlyn Passau has done a really good job of leading with her composure and we also have some girls returning that our doing a phenomenal job. I think Sydney is doing a great job leading with actions and I also think Danielle is flourishing with leading our pitchers. It's so important to have experience on your pitching staff."
As far as some of the team's strengths, Meeks thinks her team's ability to play as one will be evident.
"I expect our team to play together," Meeks said. "I think we have some great power in our lineup. I think we have some great balance of speed as well. It's going to be nice to see how we match up with other teams."
For Meeks, going into her second year as a head she thinks that the experience she gained last season as a head coach will help tremendously going forward into year two.
"I think was a blur of excitement at first," she said. "There really isn't a word that explains the excitement and nervousness that you experience in your first year as a head coach. We had a lot of new last year, however this year I feel way more grounded and focused. Having coach (Hannah) Sparks back with more experienced is so helpful too. We have really been able to create a great bond. I feel as though we are all able to have a better handle on everything."
"Even coach (Simone) McKinney being new, she brings a different kind of swag into our coaching staff. She's very confident in what she does. She's very level headed and it helps our girls understand that we're all on the same page and we want what's best for these girls and that's very important right now."
The Wildcats pitching staff will feature a lot of new faces as PRCC is bringing in four freshmen pitchers. Madilyn Burch (Franklinton, La.; Bowling Green), Hannah Embry (Vicksburg; Porters Chapel Academy), Lindsay-Rose Sheffer (Lago Vista, TX.; Lago Vista) and Cassady Bradford (Saucier; West Harrison) are all fresh faces for the Wildcats. Along with the new players, the Wildcats will have some experience in the circle with Danielle Lalonde (Cecilia, La.) returning.
As a Freshmen Lalonde held an ERA of 3.25.
"This year I see our staff being used like an actual staff where we get something from everybody," Meeks said. "Danielle has a lot of spin stuff, a lot of different speeds. Lindsay-Rose is a very diverse pitcher. She has up, down, and in and out movements. She changes speed on two different levels and she also has three different planes that she works on. I see her increasing her game mentally everyday. Hannah came off a phenomenal senior year and a great travel ball schedule. I see her being more of a bulldog type pitcher for us. Madelyn is the same way.
"She had a fantastic high school career. I think having that experience will pay dividends this season."
IN THE FIELD
The Wildcats have six outfielders this season and Meeks thinks that competition is helping the team as a whole.
"I love the fact that we have an outfield that competes like this because it keeps everybody on their toes and it keeps the girls working hard," Meeks said.
USM transfer Passau (Lucedale; George County) will be looked on to lead the outfield.
"I expect 'KP' to put pressure on the opposing pitchers. KP has a phenomenal swing," Meeks said. "And she's been working really hard with coach Sparks."
Shanks batted an impressive .315 average last season as a freshmen while Thexton averaged .300.
"Payton in left field has really made some great plays. She's made some diving catches and is really flourishing," Meeks said. "Abigail having so much experience has really been able to take the girls under her wing. Promise has also really done a good job of pushing our slappers and speedsters."
At catcher, the Wildcats will have two primary options with Kambryn Chassion (Picayune) and Aunie Rethmeyer (Belle Chasse La.). Chassion is a third-year sophomore who brings experience to the position.
"Kammy has been here for three years so she's very experienced in this league. She's been working hard on her frame work, she has a very strong arm," Meeks said. "Aunie is great with framework and commanding the field," Meeks said. "I really think they both complement each other."
At first base, Cassady Bradford (Saucier; West Harrison) will see a lot of playing time; as will Keagan Pearson (Pearl River Central; Carriere).
"Cassady has a done a really great job over there for us at first base," Meeks said. "I think Keagan is really starting to get some confidence in herself and I love seeing their competition."
Sophomore second baseman Sydney Runnels (Seminary; South Jones) will be the only returning player in the infield.
"Sydney is a strength for us," Meeks said. "She's able to keep our infield calm and she has a fantastic work ethic."
Runnels had a great Freshmen year for the Wildcats holding a batting average of .318 and batting in 10 runs along with four homers.
Freshmen Madi Waters (Laurel; West Jones) will also see some time at second base.
"Madi does a great job at second for us too," Meeks said. "She has a very calm composure about her and doesn't say very much but she's exactly what we need."
"Both of them keep stepping up and competing against one another," Meeks said. "They're very different. Taelor is very quiet and composed. She has a lot of swag at shortstop. Hannah is composed and commands the infield."
Mikaya Hunter (Jackson; Clinton Christian Academy) and McKall Holder (Hurley; East Central) are battling to start at third.
"They're both very different but they bring very good things to the table," Meeks said. "Mikaya swings a very big bat and McKall brings a lot of speed."
"Erin's really been swinging a great bat lately," Meeks said. "Emily has been coming in and working really hard and she brings speed to the lineup."
Currently, PRCC's softball team has 11 non-division games scheduled. The Wildcats will open the season at home Feb. 2 with a doubleheader against Coastal Alabama-South.
The league schedule for the Wildcats opens Feb. 27 when the Wildcats host Northwest in a 1 p.m. doubleheader.
The Wildcats will be participating in several themed home games for charitable causes throughout the season.
The Wildcats' first game of the season will be a breast cancer awareness game. The Wildcats will then host a military appreciation game against Marion Military Institute on Feb. 13. Their next themed game will be a diabetes awareness game against Northwest on Feb. 27. Following that the Wildcats will host an autism awareness game on March 2 when they take on East Central.
On March 13 the Wildcats will have a hearing loss awareness game against Coahoma. Their last themed game will be on March 20 when they take on East Mississippi in a colon cancer awareness game.
HOW TO TUNE IN
To help fans stay connected to the Wildcats this semester, Pearl River once again plans to stream all of its home events at PRCCMedia.com. Most events will be broadcast at PRCCMedia.com/Gold but in some instances where multiple teams are at home, PRCC will also have a feed on its auxiliary channel at PRCCMedia.com/Maroon. Fans who have Roku or Amazon Fire devices can also watch the Wildcats on their televisions by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app store.