July 31, 2009 12:24:00 PM
The 2008 season was just the first step for the Heritage Academy fast-pitch softball season.
The Lady Patriots made history last season, advancing to the North South State Tournament for the first time.
With many of the key players from that team back this season, Heritage Academy coach Ginny Lowery is confident Heritage Academy can build on last season and begin to build a tradition.
"I don''t think they knew they could win as much as they did last year," Lowery said. "I think having that extra drive has helped them out a lot, which is why we''re so excited and ready to play. Last year it is like, ''Hey, we''re good.'' This year it is like, ''Hey, I know we''re good and I know we can do better.'' "
Heritage Academy will try to get its 2009 season off to a fast start at 4 p.m. today when it plays host to Oak Hill Academy.
Lowery said last season has helped build momentum and anticipation for this season. She said she has seen it in her players, which has made her even more excited to get things going.
"After last season, they were ready to start practicing for this year," Lowery said. "I hoped that that stayed with them, but I was worried at the first practice we had this summer and thought maybe we would have to start from the bottom up again. But we had a great first practice."
Lowery, who took the job last year two weeks before the start of the team''s summer season, hopes the Lady Patriots ultimately will be able to build a program like New Hope High''s, which has won 11 state titles dating back to 1989.
Lowery knows something about that tradition. She was a former pitcher at New Hope High.
To accomplish that goal this season, Lowery will look to seniors pitcher Kristyn Atkins, infielder/catcher Morgan Lamb, infielders Jessee Mims and Madison Ford, and outfielder Casey Taylor for leadership.
Mims and Lamb also will play soccer this season. Soccer and fast-pitch softball are both played in the fall.
Taylor and Atkins said they plan to do their part to build confidence and to help build team chemistry to prove that the Lady Patriots can be even better than they were last season.
"I think it is going to give us a lot of courage knowing that we did make it that far and knowing that we have more people this year," Taylor said.
Atkins, a right-handed pitcher, teamed last season with Morgan Hardin to give Heritage Academy a potent 1-2 punch in the circle. She said the team had confidence last season and it grew last season as everyone had more and more success.
"I think people do have a different but better attitude and know that we''re going to do good and they have confidence we can win and do a good job," Atkins said.
Infielders Logan Waggoner, catcher Allie Lowe, and outfielders Shiloh Ellis and Kaitlyn Petty also will see playing time on the varsity level.
Jenna Petrel and Anna Kilarski also will compete for playing time.
Lowery and the team have been busy this summer.
The Lady Patriots went 7-1 in the Starkville Summer League, while Lowery recently had surgery on her right wrist to remove bone fragments that accumulated from years of pitching.
On Thursday, Lowery took her final exam at the Mississippi University for Women. She credited first-year assistant coach Bruce Branch and several parents of players on the team for helping with team-related matters to ensure the program is ready today for what she believes could be a promising season.
"Last year when they got a taste of winning they liked it," Lowery said. "They have worked really, really hard. They want to practice. Once they got a taste of winning, they know that they have to work hard to win."
Taylor and Atkins said working hard shouldn''t be a problem because the team wants its season to go even longer this year.
"I know we will (make it back to the playoffs)," Taylor said.
Said Atkins, "We''re going to try our best to get there."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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