July 23, 2014 9:58:53 PM
MACON -- Coach Sammy Lindsey hit a bunch of ground balls to a giddy group of sixth graders Wednesday afternoon.
At Central Academy, playing softball begins at an early age.
"Thank goodness, it has not been as hot and humid the last couple of days," Lindsey said. "The girls were really struggling when we first started practice. They weren't ready to work out for this long in this kind of heat."
Eventually, the remainder of the team showed up for practice. For some of these players, they have been in the system and know the routine by now.
"There is lot of pressure on us since we are the older players," Central Academy senior catcher Kayla Brown said. "Everybody really looks to us for the leadership. We have played out here in a long time so they know we know what to do in certain situations."
Brown is the lone senior on a squad, which will be attempting to make a return trip to the MAIS Overall State Tournament. Her battery mate is Courtney Gaylord, who is the squad's only junior.
Central Academy opens the season at 5 p.m. Monday by playing host to Starkville Academy.
"Even though we are very young, we are going to be okay," Lindsey said. "We have four sophomores around the infield. They have played together for the longest time. I think you can tell we have a high level of team chemistry. The communication is good. We really had a strong finish last season and that will hopefully carry over to this year."
The infield includes first baseman Allie Beth Rigdon, second baseman Sadie Lindsey, shortstop Savannah Stapleton and third baseman Kelsey Robbins.
"There is a lot of nervousness before the first game," Gaylord said. "But we are excited about playing. We have had some scrimmages and some long practices, so now we are really ready to start playing some games. Even though we have some young players, I have confidence that they will be ready to step in and play well."
Gaylord and Brown have worked together as battery mates for several seasons. However, the duo will now work together extensively on the varsity level. A year ago, senior Blake Rigdon did the catching. At season's end, she signed with East Mississippi Community College.
"Kayla has been in training for a while behind Blake," Lindsey said. "She is our only senior so this is really her time to step up and shine. We are expecting some big things. Courtney really grew up a lot last year. We have been working with her velocity and added a couple of new pitches. So it will be exciting to see them work together in a game a situation."
Brown said the pitcher-catcher dynamic is important.
"I have caught Courtney for years now," Brown said. "We work well together. We keep each other focused. It is important that the pitcher has a lot of confidence. I try to help her with that."
The outfield includes two seventh graders and an eighth grader. Ashley Brown is working her way back from a knee injury. She will be joined in the outfield by Layla Franks and Coley Disbrow.
"We have some talented players," Lindsey said. "We just have some players who have not had A-game experience. Our pitching will be good and that will have to carry us, while we get this young players used to playing against varsity competition."
The Lady Vikings have established themselves as a Class A power. The squad backs that up by playing a challenging schedule. Still, the list of goals are simple.
"Our goal is to win the district," Lindsey said. "We certainly feel like we are capable of doing that. After that, we want to be in the top four in the north state and get invited back to the big dance (overall state tournament). You can't win it, unless you are invited to play in it. Going back to state would be a big deal for this group, with us being young in so many areas. We look forward to that challenge."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter