Building on Momentum

“You’ve got to love that. There’s nowhere to go but up,” said Sam Houston State softball head coach John Garris in response to his team’s ninth place preseason ranking in the Southland Conference.Last season the Lady Bearkats had a rough start, but finished the season strong, winning 10 of their last 16 games to finish with a season record of 18 wins and 34 losses.”We hope to build on that momentum,” said Garris, who who will begin his third season as Sam Houston State head coach when the Lady Bearkats travel to take on Texas A&M tonight at 6 p.m.Building on last season’s strong finish is imperative for the Lady Bearkats to compete with the intense competition in the Southland Conference. In order to climb the conference ranks, Garris said he is planning a season of hard focused practices for the team. But he admits there are times when the team as a whole is not putting out the 100 percent effort necessary to compete in the conference.”There are times when we have players that we wish would work harder,” Garris said. “We think if we can get everyone to put forth a winning effort at practice, we will see a winning effort result of the field.”The team is stuck in a state of limbo right now trying to find their identity as a team.”They are trying to zero in on, ‘what are we going to do? Are we going to be a hard working team? Are we going to pay the price to be successful.’ ” said Garris.Garris said some players are willing to make sacrifices to be successful that other people would not make.The team has started becoming more physically and mentally conditioned, according to Garris.Returning starters from the 2000 team are Melissa Cosgrove, Kim Dixon, Brooke Hale, Ashlye Hylton, Deven Mikulin, Natalie Pruitt, Jennifer Robertson, Teri Thomas, Christin Thompson, and Jamie Tomasini.Robertson was the Lady Bearkat’s Most Vauble Player in 2000, leading the team with her .315 batting average and seven home runs for the season. Robertson also shared the number one RBI spot with Melissa Cosgrove with 30.Hylton and Thomas are also provided good hitting last season, finishing with averages of .294 and .289 respectively. Both led the team in stolen bases last year as well with 25 stolen bases each.Garris attributes the end of the season success last year to the team playing better offensively and defensively. And because defense is a key team skill in softball, the team is beginning by focusing on defense.”The team that wins the Southland Conference will probably be the team with the strongest defense overall,” Garris said. To help the team develop their defensive skills, they spend a lot of time working on basic skills like catching, throwing and running.”There are four basic components, and we spend a lot of time on catching and throwing,” Garris.Putting the team concepts together is another task for the team. The team has to work on putting the basic skills together in the infield and the outfield. Right now the team has to focus less on catching the ball and more on being able to throw the ball consistently. “Some of our players are small, so they may be quick but they don’t necessarily have real strong arms,” Garris said. Those people we want to make sure they are making good, accurate throws. But Coach Garris said they plan to develop a balanced offense by incorporating a veriety of skills.”We want to have a balanced offensive attack where we can hit and run,” Garris said. “We also want to steal some bases, but we need to hit the ball before we can get on base.” While the team enjoyed success at the end of last season, the coach felt that improvements could be made with new team members.”We have brought in some additional players to add to our team and help us out in some spots that we could improve on,” Garris said.Just like last year, this season’s team will be a young one. Last season the team did not have any seniors and this year the team only has four seniors. This season there are seven freshmen.Garris has built confidence in the freshmen players after their performance in the team’s fall practice games. Each of the players will have the opportunity to play this season.”We feel like the only thing [the freshman} don’t have going for them is experience,” Garris said. The Bearkats are using their ninth place ranking as motivation to do well this season. By combining their skills and teamwork, Garris said, the team wants to tell those who did not see much potential in them that “That’s not right. We are going to be a good ball club and we are going to have a good season.”

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