For some teams, identifying their problem is as simple as realizing they have a Jekyll and Hyde identity crisis. Wipe that slate clean and their potential can be endless.
Take last season’s East Jessamine Lady Jaguars softball team, for example, who went 7-16 through April 26.
Breakthrough the problem as head coach Tom Hamm, and you discover that it was a young team trying to find themselves after having their veteran leadership depart.
“We had graduated four seniors who had been starting at East since they were in eighth grade,” Hamm said. “They were just looking for leadership, trying to see where they fit into on the team.”
As Hamm said, about halfway through the season things began to “click,” resulting in a 11-4 record to closeout the season.
“What I wanted to see, basically from last year to this year, is when we started the season last year, we had an astronomical like 130 errors or something in our first 20 games,” Hamm said. “We cut it down to like 40 in our last 20 games.”
Fortunately for Hamm and the Lady Jags, much of last year’s team returns to try to improve on those stats and a narrow defeat by Boyle County in the first round of the 12th Region tournament.
Junior pitcher Haylee Hamm is who Tom anticipates to start much of the season after becoming the team’s number one as a sophomore, and will be caught by junior catcher Katie Fischer, a West Jessamine transfer.
“(Haylee) started on the varsity team since she was in eighth-grade,” Coach Hamm said. “Haylee’s going to hold her own. I feel like if we put up some points we’re going to be hard to handle.”
Runs came few and far between for East during the season’s first 19 games when they produced two double-digit scoring games. But in the season’s second half, is when a bulk of their 218 runs — good enough for third in the region — came about.
“I feel we’re going to be one of the better hitting teams around,” Coach Hamm said. “We started out kind of struggling at the plate last year. But, I think it was all just a combination of being young and nerves.”
Senior Heather Welch will bat second for the Lady Jags this season, and with what Coach Hamm said was her “high on-base percentage,” expect to see her bat helping back his sentiments for the upcoming season.
Batting in the three-hole for East is sophomore Sarah Rainwater.
“She is a great contact hitter, she has good on-base percentage, and she’s just exceptional in the field,” Coach Hamm said.
While she may be playing a big role in the batting order, defense wins games, and nothing is any different in softball. Coach Hamm said the team’s centerfielder, a varsity player since seventh grade, in one of the state’s best outfielders.
“(Rainwater) is probably one of the top outfielders in the state of Kentucky,” Coach Hamm said. “And that’s not being overconfident or arrogant, she’s just that good.”
The Lady Jags open the season¿Monday at home against Lincoln County, but the meat of their schedule will test if they can win region, which is what Coach Hamm believes to be the team goal.
“We got without a doubt, what I would say is the toughest schedule East Jessamine has ever played in softball,” Coach Hamm said. “I wanted to challenge them ... I think we can win a lot of games, but it’s going to be a competitive schedule.”
In order to win, East must dethrone last season’s region champions, Boyle, who Coach Hamm said is a team that the Lady Jags can use as a measuring stick to “gage” their level of play.
“Several of the girls on our team and their team played on a summer team last year (Kentucky Crossfire 16-U), so they kind of became friends. So there’s that little friendly rivalry between them,” Coach Hamm said. “I think they’re a very good team. I think they ought to be the favorite to win our region, and from the hearsay ... I think a lot of people are expecting it to come down to us and Boyle.”
Before it comes time to play Boyle, East will make their way to Clarksville, Tenn., to play in the Play It Again Classic, choosing to go against the norm of visiting warm, beach ridden coastlines as they did last season in Myrtle Beach.
“We had no focus down there,” Coach Hamm said. “The girls were thinking about everything but softball, and it was one game that day so all they could think about was ‘we’re going to play this game today, and then where are we going?’”
During that trip Haylee Hamm and Welch were injured during the first couple of innings of their first game, leading to them being sidelined for the tournament, which saw the Lady Jags go 0-for-5.
With goals set, Coach Hamm said it was important to attend the Clarksville tournament “to play the better, most competitive teams, see the good pitching, see the good hitting,” so they’re better prepared at the district and region tournament.