The Du Quoin Lady Indians softball team is coming off its sixth 20 or more win season in the last nine, but with the loss of his entire infield, including his starting pitcher, Coach Jason James will field a very young squad when and if the season finally begins.
"We have a very young, but balanced team this year with a lot of potential," James said. "The kids have a very good work ethic and are giving us everything they have. I don't consider any certain part of our game weak, just inexperienced. We expect a lot from this group in the future."
The beginning of season is currently on hold with the state in lockdown until at least April 7.
"We know that the kids are taking this very hard, as are we, and we are hoping the country and state gets healthy here soon so we can get back on the diamond," James said. "On the plus side, we had several kids dealing with some injuries so in that case it is good for them to get some rest, but it has really put a damper on everything else.
"We got a full two weeks of practice before the shutdown. We are hoping to be back at it very soon. Every team is in the same situation, so we are hoping once schools open back up that we can get right into some games."
Last year the Lady Indians ended with a 21-13 record and finished second to Pinckneyville in the SIRR Mississippi Division with a 7-3 record. That culminated a four-year run that saw last year's senior class win 83 games.
The only regret of that stellar group was they never won a regional title, even though they advanced to the regional final each year. They lost three of those finals by two or fewer runs, including last year's 3-1 loss to Trico. The last Lady Indian team to win a regional and the conference title was the 36-3 team in 2012.
"Trico played very well and we expected it to be a good game going in," James said. "We just didn't have our best game and that's just how it goes sometimes."
James has back only three starters in the field.
"We had a solid team last year, however we were very senior heavy, so we are losing a lot of experience, but we were hoping to gain a lot of experience quick this season," James said. "Although we are young we have an explosive team that could win a lot of games.
"Our pitchers will throw strikes and we have a solid defense. Our season will depend a lot on our approach to the plate."
The infield is where it will all begin. The rebuilding will be helped along with two of last year's starting outfielders moving to the infield.
"Our infield from last year was mostly all four-year starters leaving a huge gap in our lineup, but sophomores Abbi Mocaby and Lauren Heape will be four-year starters." James said.
Gone but not forgotten are the seven seniors: pitcher Chloe Hill, catcher Maci McKinnies, first baseman Olivia Whitley, second baseman Meryn Gross, third baseman Morgan Bullar, shortstop Katie Smith and Ashlyn Jackson.
Mocaby began her high school career leading the team in RBIs, placing third in batting average and committing just one error in the field. She earned second-team all-conference honors as a utility player.
Heape was almost as good in the field committing just two errors. At the plate she was fourth in batting average and fourth in RBIs.
Mocaby is moving from the wide open spaces of left field to the confines of the plate to take over the catching duties. Heape moves from the right side of the outfield to the left side of the infield at third base.
The infield went from being the most experienced part of the team to the youngest. Joining sophomores Mocaby and Heape will be two freshmen -- Ella West at first and Loveleen Dunklin at shortstop. Second base is going to have a little more experience with junior Maya Russell and sophomore Sophie Miller splitting time.
Senior Chloe Hess is the only returning starter in the outfield in center, but the rest of outfield is a work in progress.
"Outfield positions are still widely open," James said. "I expect senior Braylee Watson and sophomore Ayanna Dunklin to play in right and we are expecting freshmen Riley Atkins and Ella Davis to get some time in the outfield."
Replacing a workhorse like Hill on the mound and her almost 350 innings pitched the past two seasons is a big task. Taking up the challenge will be sophomore Lexi Cobin.
"Lexi got several starts for us last year," James said. "Two freshmen Camryn Hill and Nevaeh Loos will be our second and third string pitchers."