MARION -- With a lot of the pieces back from a team that won 26 games last season, the anticipation was high for the Marion High School softball team's opener Tuesday.
And the Lady Wildcats appeared in midseason form during a 7-0 shutout of West Frankfort at the Crisp Sports Complex.
"I feel like we're meshing really well as a team," said Marion coach Joy Neal. "They're all really good friends and it shows."
Ivy Smart got the start and the win in the circle, going the distance and striking out seven. She gave up two hits, walked three and plunked a pair.
"Ivy did a good job of commanding her pitches," Neal said. "She got in a little trouble at the end but she pulled it through."
Smart's battery mate, Tori Evans, was the hitting star with three hits in four at-bats, including a monstrous homer in the sixth inning to supply the exclamation point.
"Tori had a phenomenal day at the plate," Neal said.
The scoring started in the third inning when Morgan Andrews beat out a grounder to short for a single, then Evans and Andrea Roberts followed with RBI hits.
In the fourth, after Jordan Turner drew a leadoff walk, Keira Hance crushed a shot to the fence in center field and Hannah Nalley also collected a hit. Andrews drew a walk and Evans notched her second hit to make it 5-0.
Heaven Lawrence blooped in a single to right and Hance smacked her second hit to push the lead up in the fifth.
"We did a good job of making adjustments in the third inning because after that we scored in every inning," Neal said. "I felt like we hit well after that, after we got those first game jitters out."
Expectations are always high for the Lady Wildcats, but this year's squad already has a long list of college signees in addition to acquired accolades. Hance has inked with Southeast Missouri State; Roberts has committed to Southeastern Illinois and Andrews signed with McKendree University.
"Morgan did a great job in center field," Neal said. "She caught a lot of good balls out there, especially with the wind."
Andrews indeed had a web gem with a sliding catch of a rocket liner. Her counterpart, West Frankfort center fielder Maddy Britton, also made a spectacular diving catch to rob a hit.
Marion travels to Anna-Jonesboro on Friday and then to Belleville East on Saturday.