However, even with these four major departures, East returns a plethora of talent.
“For the most part, the varsity team is same people we had last year, minus the four that just left,” East Jessamine coach Tom Hamm said. “Practice has been going good. The girls have a good attitude.”
This year’s team includes just one senior, Shaylin Pryse, who was East’s leadoff hitter and a starting outfielder on last year’s team.
“She’s alway been our leadoff hitter. She’s fast; she’s got good speed; she can hit both sides of the plate,” Hamm said. “She’s a solid outfielder ... and a solid player. She’s a staple on our team, and we’re going to need her to continue to do what she’s done and even improve on that.”
Haylee Hamm, who spent 20 innings in the circle last year for East, will take up the bulk of the pitching workload this spring. She went 3-0 as a freshman, striking out 11 batters and recording a 2.80 ERA.
“The majority of the pitching is going to be Haylee ... She’s pitched well when we’ve pitched her; obviously we picked good spots for her ... She’s worked hard this offseason, pitched pretty much every day,” Hamm said. “She’s got big shoes to fill. I don’t think it’s going to go without any growing pains, but I think she’s ready for it.”
Sarah Rainwater may be a freshman in the classroom this year, but it’s her second year with the team as she was one of East’s top hitters during her eighth-grade year. She was third on the team in batting average at .349, belted 30 hits (second on the team, including seven doubles), drove in 13 runs (including the game-winner to send East to state), and scored 21 runs.
“Sarah’s hitting is looking good. We had batting practice the other day and Heather Welch hit the ball really well; Haylee is hitting the ball well; Ashlyn Dray is back, and she seems to be hitting the ball well,” Hamm said. “We’ve got some new girls that weren’t in the lineup last year that have shown some positive signs batting.”
Hamm will also be a big bat for the Lady Jags. She collected 30 hits last season, drove in 13 runs, scored 16 times and hit .297.
Heather Welch, who came on strong after Hall went down with a season-ending injury, ended the season with a .276 batting average, drove in 11 runs, hit seven doubles and scored 10 runs.
Hamm said McKayla Staton had a good offseason and has been hitting the ball pretty well throughout the first month of practice.
Last season, East thrived on its pitching and defense. The Lady Jags scored 4.5 runs per game on average (one of the lowest in the region) and allowed 3.3 on average.
On defense, East has had to shift a lot of players around. Hamm moving to the rubber opens a spot at third base, and Underwood and Boston graduating opens spots at shortstop and second base. Rainwater has moved from the outfield to shortstop, opening a new spot in the grass.
“There’s a lot of shifting around, and we’re going to see how the chemistry works,” Hamm said. “We’ve tried a bunch of different scenarios.”
Last year’s team thrived on key players stepping up at big moments; this season will be no different as girls who had smaller roles on the team last year will start to help carry a bigger load throughout this season.
“I see Haleigh Fain and Olivia Day playing much bigger roles this year,” Hamm said. Day has been working on pitching and will pitch some throughout the season.
The Lady Jaguars’ schedule includes more than 40 games, including a week’s worth at the Grand Strand Softball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., during spring break. East will also compete in the Thrill on the Hill at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester on April 21. East is slated to play three games in one day at the tournament.