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Softball Previews: Lady Rebels adjust line-up, add new pieces looking for a third straight trip to State

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Mady Kate Gantt

Mady Kate Gantt

The Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebel Softball program only graduated three seniors from a team that reached its second straight State Tournament.

So Head Coach Joe Layton has most of his talent returning. But the three pieces he bid farewell to are all in college playing softball. Gone is catcher and 2012 Millington Star Female Athlete of the Year Julanne McCommon to Dyersburg.

Second baseman Hanna Durham is playing for Union University. And Roxanna Kimes was nominated for Best of the Preps two years in a row as the Lady Rebels ace hurler winning the award in 2011. Now she’s playing Mississippi.

How do you replace that trio?

“That’s something we’re trying to figure out,” Layton acknowledged. “We’ve been moving some people around. Infieldwise, we’re probably going to be as good or probably a little bit better defensively that we have been. We have a little bit more speed, a little bit more quickness all the way around the infield.”

To replace McCommon and Durham, Layton has moved players around and added a transfer and freshman to the infield. Last year’s third baseman Brooklyn Simpson will be behind the plate. Then three-sport sensation Bethany Berger will find a spot in

the infield. And ninth-grader Taylor Beasley is earning a spot in the defensive rotation to join veterans Jordan Collins and Ashton Needham.

The outfield will feature senior talent like Bayleigh Nale, Aubra Bibb and Bethel signee Mady Kate Gantt. Other players to see action in the outfield will be Jordan Panell and Caleb Joyner.

The reason the younger players will see some time in the field will be because Gantt will be counted on to be a part of Layton’s pitching rotation.

“The pitching position, we’ll be pitching by committee,” he said. “I think this year we have four girls who are throwing out there.

“If we can get two or three innings from each one of those,” he added, “I don’t know if we have the seven-inning, go get ‘em pitcher this year that we’ve had the last few years. Hopefully by the end of the year, one of them will develop the arm strength to throw a complete game.”

Layton will try to keep the opposition off balance with left-handers Gantt and Beasley. Then righties Needham and Collins will toe the rubber.

“Are we going to be as dominant in the circle as we have been in the past with a Roxanna Kimes?” Layton asked rhetorically. “That’s not going to be the case. But we have some quality pitchers. If we can just keep teams off balance with that left-handed and right-handed combination coming in there, it will work to our advantage.”

As the Lady Rebels adjust to life without Kimes in the circle, Layton thinks the lineup can put some runs on the board with Gantt near the top of the order. Beasley will be a slapper near the top of the lineup.

Berger is a switch hitting speedster and bats like Needham and Simpson will provide pop to drive in runs.

“We probably have more team speed that we’ve ever had,” he noted. “We have three who will be hitting from the left side of the plate. That’s always a huge advantage with those slappers.”

All things will have to be clicking if the Lady Rebels want to make a third straight trip to State. Teams like Fayette Academy and Jackson Christian will stand in their way.

And the defending State champions USJ Lady Bruins look to stay atop of the league.

“The State Championship is one of those things you look for,” Layton said. “That’s one of the goals you set at the beginning of the year. It’s about what they want to do, if they have the mindset.

“They have the physical tools to make that happen,” he concluded. “But if you let down mentally at any point, anybody can beat you anyday and anytime. As a team, we’re heading in the right direction.”

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