By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebel Softball Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello is a self-confessed baseball guy.
And he is aware of the recent trend of the MLB’s San Francisco Giants winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Now his program has a chance to create a pattern similar to the Giants.
Back in 2011 TRA led by junior ace Roxy Kimes captured the school’s first State title. Fast forward to 2014, Ashton Needham was the force behind the Lady Rebels winning their second championship.
Now the year is 2017, three years since TRA’s last championship. Sanfratello said the disappointed of the early end of the 2016 campaign has motivated his team.
The Lady Rebels suffered defeated to Fayette Academy in Regionals sending them across the state for Sectionals. TRA came up short of reach the State Tournament.
“Last year, I probably over-scheduled as far as toughness,” Sanfratello acknowledged. “Thinking that would probably get us ready for the postseason. I’m not sure if that didn’t have a lot of positives come out of that toughness of our schedule like the past. We even played the top team in the country down in Gulf Shores. We just faces a lot of tough competition. Mentally I probably put a little too much on them, especially with their age.”
The 2017 schedule will be challenging preparing the Lady Rebels for the postseason. Sanfratello will depend on his senior duo of Katie Diggs and Anna Claire Williams to help pace the Lady Rebels throughout the season.
Diggs will once again secure third base and Williams will move to the outfield to roam centerfield. ACW will replace All-Region and 2016 Star Female Athlete of the Year Taylor Beasley on defense.
Williams might be slated to fill the shoes of Beasley in the batting order.
“That is a huge loss,” Sanfratello said. “I knew it a year ago this day was coming. This weekend we’ve tried some different things with Anna Claire Williams in there. We tried her sister Lexi there. It’s going to be hard to find that piece. I just need someone to put the ball into place and get onto base. Taylor was special.”
Beasley batted nearly .500 and had an on base percentage of .600.
“Almost as hard to replace as good pitching,” Sanfratello noted.
Actually the Lady Rebels are looking to be strengthen in the circle. Rachel Whitley returns for her junior season with three-years of experience pitching.
“It always starts with pitching,” Sanfratello said. “Of course we’ve got Rachel coming back. This will be her fourth year and she’s a junior. We’re a little bit deeper this year. We’ve got an eighth grader coming up named Charlie Rice. She could be the next dominant arm.
“Diggs is still going to be able to throw some for us,” he added. “And sophomore Emily West is going to be able to throw for us in spot appearances. Our first two are going to be Rachel and Charlie.”
Shelby Clifton will be catching the pitchers and bring her explosive bat back into the lineup. Other key bats to look for are Emily Fisher, Abby West and Bailey Jo May.
Sanfratello said his lineup is subject to change but he has RBI producers up and down the batting order. He said it will be needed to beat teams like USJ, Fayette Academy, King’s Academy and Friendship Academy.
Sanfratello said his girls have been hitting the weight room and will make sure it stays a part of their conditioning.
“They are starting to see it,” he said. “In the preseason we were hitting balls out left and right. They’re buying into it and realizing the results are there.”
With the additional strength, solid pitching and experience in key positions, Sanfratello is hoping destiny is on the Lady Rebels’ side in 2017.
“Being a baseball guy, I’m also superstitious,” he concluded. “They won it in ’11. We won it in ’14. So it’s been 3 years. It takes so much more than just being good. At some point you have to get lucky along with playing hard. But I must say I really, really like this team.”