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2013 Preview: Rangers Look to Repeat Last Season's Success
February 14, 2013By Kevin Maloney of NORTHWEST MISSISSIPPI COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Winners in 20 of their final 24 regular season games, the Northwest softball team capped an impressive 2012 season with a 30-12-1 overall record and 18-6 mark in north division play.
The Rangers boasted a third, 30-win season in the last six years and were receiving votes in the NJCAA Division II Poll late in the season.
Northwest snapped a two-year streak without a win in the postseason by beating East Central, 4-3, in walk-off fashion at the state tournament, as sophomore Stormy Robison smashed an RBI-double to right in the bottom of the seventh to punch the Rangers’ ticket to the Region 23 Tournament.
Northwest lost two, close games to reigning national champion and top-ranked LSU Eunice and Northeast as its season came to a close at regionals. Eunice defeated the Rangers 3-0, with all three runs coming with two outs in the sixth, while Northeast captured a 3-2 win with all three of its runs also coming in the sixth inning.
The Rangers closed the year with the nation’s best fielding percentage in Division II softball at .967 and hit over the .300 mark for a fourth consecutive year at .311.
After a promising fall season, Northwest head softball coach and MACJC Hall of Famer Mike Rowan is excited to get the 2013 campaign underway on Thursday, Feb. 21 against Jackson State CC.
In Rowan’s nine years as head coach, Northwest has amassed an overall record of 253-118-1 (.681) and 126-48 (.724) ledger in north division play. He won division titles in 2007 and 2009.
"On paper this team has a ton of potential," Rowan said. "We had a great fall on the field and also our kids got it done in the classroom. Our team GPA was over a 3.00, and I’m proud these ladies understand the importance of academics."
The infield will be anchored by sophomore Anna Barham who played in all 43 games last year and was a vacuum at third base. Barham committed just five errors in 126 chances and also had some big hits down the stretch.
Sophomore transfers Malea Dillon from Volunteer State CC and Rachel Kelly from Christian Brothers will handle the middle of the infield and will look to have big impacts in a new environment. Dillon last played in 2011 and hit .311 from the plate with four doubles, three home runs and 24 RBIs. Kelly played in 33 games her true freshman season at CBU.
Carlie Jenkins, a mid-year addition from Rockwall (Texas), is battling for time at second base and in the outfield. Jenkins received major college interest from Marshall, West Virginia and Central Arkansas.
A good battle is also brewing at first base where freshmen Chelsey Gilliam and Lindsey Shaw are each vying for a starting spot. Gilliam was a six-time all-conference nod at Marshall Academy while Shaw, mainly a pitcher, was a two-time all-Tate county selection. Casey Baddley, who started 20 games at first base when she wasn’t pitching, will also likely rotate on the corner.
Two sophomores will roam the outfield in All-MACJC North Division selections Lauren Riley (LF) and Vicki Johnson (CF). Riley spent most of last season as the designated player, hitting .364 from the plate and leading the team in doubles (10), home runs (four) and slugging percentage (.582). She also set a new school record with 41 RBIs. Johnson started in 38 games and hit .337 from the plate with eight doubles, three triples, a home run and 21 RBIs.
Freshmen Katelyn Westbrook of DeSoto Central and Haley Vance of Water Valley are competing for a starting spot in right field. Westbrook helped the Jaguars to the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs all four years while Vance is coming off a huge senior year for the Lady Blue Devils. Vance was tabbed the Oxford Eagle Player of the Year after hitting .540 from the plate. Vance could also see time at third.
In the circle, Northwest got a pleasant surprise with the news Casey Baddley would return for her sophomore season. Baddley transferred to Ole Miss last fall for academics, but returned to Senatobia this spring.
Baddley had a stellar debut for the Rangers last season, being named All-Region 23, First Team All-MACJC and the team’s most valuable pitcher. The DeSoto Central product went 17-4 with 17 complete games and a 1.47 ERA in 22 season starts. She struck out 99 against 35 walks in 128.1 innings of work and held opposing hitters to a .188 average.
The Rangers welcome back sophomore Emily Hatcher and welcome freshmen Roxanna Kimes of Tipton-Rosemark Academy and Lindsey Shaw of Senatobia.
Hatcher appeared in 21 games last year, 15 starts, and went 8-5 with five complete games and a 3.42 ERA. Kimes was a two-time TSSAA Division 2 All-State selection and boasted a 2.38 ERA in the circle and also hit .435 at the plate as a senior. Shaw went 10-6 with a 1.27 ERA in 23 appearances her senior year at Senatobia, striking out 136 batters in 126.1 innings of work.
The battle behind the plate between sophomore Natalie Smock and freshman Dee Alvarez has heated up this spring.
Smock, an all-north division selection, started 38 games behind the plate last year and hit .321 with eight doubles, 23 RBIs and her first-ever home run. A shoulder injury, however, has hampered her this offseason.
Alvarez helped Lewisburg to three district championships in 2008, 2009 and 2012 and hit .279 her senior season with three home runs and 20 RBIs.
Among several key losses from last year’s team were infielders Hillari Plummer and Linsey Hebert and outfielder/pitcher Stormy Robison whose names are scattered in the school record books.
Plummer capped her career with all-state honors for a second-straight year and got the team award for highest batting average (.380). The Pope native leaves Northwest as the all-time leader in hits (108) and runs scored (82) and also ranks second in stolen bases (23) and third in walks (32).
Hebert capped her two-year Ranger career by being named a team captain, MVP and earned the Gold Glove Award. In 291 career chances, the Batesville product committed just six errors and fielded .979. She leaves as the school’s career leader in stolen bases (24) and ranks second in home runs (four) and third in runs scored (69).
A regular in the circle and in the outfield, Robison got the Heart of the Champion award to cap her two-year career. Robison was a .302 lifetime hitter in 81 career games and also went 7-4 in the circle with a 2.34 ERA.
Casey Gibson, a native of Holly Springs, got the team’s highest GPA award and also earned the NJCAA’s Exemplary Academic Achievement award. She appeared in five games on the year in the circle, going 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA.
Live stats available all season long at www.sidearmstats.com/northwestms/softball/index.htm.
Live video available for selected home/road games at www.ihigh.com/nwccrangers.
Follow the team on Twitter/Instagram @NWCC_Rangers.