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Sanfratello takes over Lady Rebels primed for another run at a title

By Thomas Sellers Jr.Card Ashton Needham

The Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebel Softball faithful are hoping the good times won’t skip a beat.
New Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello isn’t planning on stopping the music, instead he wants to add a little bit more pep to the Lady Rebels’ steps in 2014.
“I hope those expectations are higher,” he said. “I’m really honored to take over this program. The successful run it has been on the past four year, it’s really honor to step right in and know we’ll have a chance to compete for that State championship every year.
“I am trying to bring my energy, more excitement,” Sanfratello continued. “Hopefully the girls are responding to that. I’m trying to get everybody to believe in the fact they can compete.”
Competing hasn’t been an issue in recent years at TRA during the Joe Layton/Amber Needham era. In a three-year stretch, the Lady Rebels reached three Sub-State rounds, two State Tournaments and won the 2011 championship.
And four players remain from that title team entering the 2014 campaign, Jordan Collins, Sally Downing, Kayla Joyner and Ashton Needham.
Despite graduating talent like Mady Kate Gantt, Julanne McCommon and Roxanne Kimes in recent years, Sanfratello said the Lady Rebels still have a talent group to compete in Division II-A.
“We have four girls leftover from that State championship team,” he noted.  They know what it takes to get there. We’ve got a veteran infield especially up the middle with Sally Downing behind the plate.”
Jordan Collins will be another senior in the middle of the field at shortstop. And Needham will be the featured pitcher for the Lady Rebels.
Sanfratello said defense will be the key to success as Needham will challenge hitters all season with strikes.
“They’ll play well enough to keep us in the game,” he said. “I’ve got a little saying, ‘Our defense will keep us in the game until our offense wins it.’ Hopefully that defense will be there for our pitching.
“I brought up an eighth grader in Rachel Whitley who has the potential to be a phenomenal talent,” Sanfratello added. “She’s going to get thrown right into the fire.”
Whitley will help with pitching duties and be a bat in the middle of the batting order.
“Offense is a work in progress,” Sanfratello said of the overall lineup. “We can hit the ball all over the field.”
Sanfratello is pretty sure his offense will start with sophomore Taylor Beasley and junior Bethany Berger. The two infielders bring speed to the top of the lineup.
Needham, a Northwest Mississippi signee, will have the responsibly of moving them over or driving them home in the third spot.
“She’s been swing the ball real well in practice,” Sanfratello said. “She’s hitting the ball all over the field. We’ve spent a lot time all year in the weight room. We’ve gone pretty hard the eight or nine who didn’t play basketball since the beginning of November. They’re really looking forward to seeing the results of working hard.”
Other featured bats will be Collins, Whitley and Jordyn Thornell. Sanfratello said he hopes the good hitting will continue all season attacking the gaps.
With TRA as an established force in the league, Sanfratello said the opposition won’t take it easy on the Lady Rebels because it’s his first season in charge.
“It’s going to be USJ, Fayette and us,” he acknowledged. “I know USJ lost a pretty good arm to graduation. And I don’t know much about Fayette at this moment. But we’re going to have to battle it out with those two teams. The half, ECS seems to be one of the best over there. We’re going to hopefully get into that top one or two.”
Sanfratello said the expectations remind high at TRA, but he has set small goals along the way for his 2014 squad.
“We tell them each day is a process,” he concluded. “We can’t try to see the outcome before the process. We don’t start counting our chickens before all the eggs hatch. I’m hoping that energy is there every day. I told them I need that energy everyday you walk through that door.”

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March 2014
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