By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The standards are high for Tipton-Rosemark Academy Softball.
The Lady Rebels have enjoyed a 5-year stretch of winning a pair of State titles, making three trips to Murfreesboro and being in the Sub-State round each season. Last year ended prematurely in Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello’s mind to King’s Academy.
King’s Academy were eventual State runner-ups losing to Friendship Christian.
“Our Sub-State last year was really a State Tournament matchup,” Sanfratello said. “That left a bad taste in our mouths. We know we were one of the best four teams in the State. Having been there the year before and won it, we thought we had a good shot. Although we were really, really young.”
The 2016 edition of the Lady Rebels will feature a pair of seniors with Taylor Beasley and Sarah Kate Downing. The junior class is composed of Katie Diggs and Anna Claire Williams.
Those four players were on the 2014 championship team with TRA. The only other player still on the roster from that title team is now sophomore Rachel Whitley.
Whitley will be part of a sophomore class featuring six key players on the 2016 roster. Sanfratello also has two eighth graders that will be a part of the lineup.
“We are still young but the girls we have had played a lot of softball,” he said. “They have played their whole lives.
“Rachel will be No. 1 this year,” Sanfratello continued. “Last year she won 16 games with a 2.02 ERA. She’s going to put us in a position to win. She’s going to get all the big games pretty much. Katie Diggs was phenomenal last year. She was 9-0 and she had a .40 ERA.”
In addition to the pitching rotation, Emily West will get some varsity innings with the Lady Rebels scheduled to travel to several tournaments in 2016.
With a beefed up schedule, a lot of the Lady Rebels spend the offseason in the weight room. The girls had the mindset of being stronger for a possible late May matchup in Sub-State again.
“You can tell a difference in the way the ball is coming off their bats and just overall strength,” Sanfratello said. “It was awesome having that kind of turnout for fall and winter workouts.”
The championship Skipper hopes the hard work will pay off in the offense.
“Taylor is going to hit leadoff,” he noted. “ She hit almost .600 last year. She has batted well over .500 for her career. She got on base a lot. She had 67 hits and 39 stolen bases. She’s going to set the tone. We’re going to go as she go.”
Last year’s Lady Rebels featured the veteran Bethany Berger in the No. 2 spot helping to move the dependable Beasley over. Now that responsibility will move over to Whitley and fellow sophomore Shelby Clifton.
“This team is going to be able to hit and score runs,” Sanfratello said. “But the biggest question for me right now is defense.
Eighth grader Lexie Williams might lock up one of those middle infield spots after the graduation of Berger. Look for Lizzie Diggs and Anna Claire Williams to be in the infield as well.
At the hot corner will be the established Katie Diggs. Another defense mainstay is Beasley in centerfield.
Also projected for the outfield is eighth grader Abby West.
Sanfratello said all phases of the game have to solid when May arrives for his Lady Rebels to make another trip to Murfreesboro. In addition to defending champs Friendship Academy and King’s Academy, a familiar foe will try to derail those plans.
“USJ is always going to be the team that will be a thorn in our sides,” Sanfratello concluded. “The trip to Murfreesboro or winning it all, it will always have to go through USJ. They’re always competitive with us. The Middle and East part of the state, that’s where we’re going to have most of our problems, challenges.”