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Dickens shuffles Starkville Academy lineup

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- A move here. A move there. Let''s see if that works. 

 

For much of Jessica Dickens'' time as head coach of Starkville Academy softball, that has been the order of readying the team for the 2010 season.  

 

The former Leake Academy standout spent two seasons as an assistant on Randy Haynes'' staff and took over in the spring following his swan song in 2009. 

 

For roughly the first five months, she has shuffled the lineup to help deal with the losses of three seniors.  

 

Bailey Wofford, the team''s top hitter and catcher for the past three years, will replace Mary Austin Barber at shortstop. Barber will move into the circle to replace Mississippi Association of Independent Schools All-Star Lyndsey Haynes.  

 

Julianne Jackson, who transferred last year to the school and played outfield, will share pitching duties with Barber and behind the plate. 

 

In the infield, first baseman Megan Aucoin is the only returning starter. Adrian Futral, who started at second base throughout the Starkville summer league, will open the season where Renee Tatum started last year.  

 

Senior Tyler Milner, who didn''t play last season, rejoined the team this year and is expected to start at third base.  

 

The position changes could increase as the season moves forward, Dickens said.  

 

"It''s still going to be in certain games, depending who we''re playing, where we''ll have people," Dickens said. "There will be changes in the field where girls will be asked to play out of position, or maybe a position they''ve never played.  

 

"A couple of positions are still up in the air. We have an idea of who we want to play them, but we''re just waiting for them to step up and do it the way we need them to." 

 

Though Starkville Academy is fast approaching its July 30 season opener at Hebron Christian with uncertainty, Dickens is confident in her game plan for a successful season. 

 

The team''s acclimation period was short because of Dickens'' history with the players, and she hasn''t had a problem with them to the work ethic expected to build on last year''s 23-8 record.  

 

"I just want to make sure I''m doing everything I can to get these kids ready," Dickens said. "I just want them to play hard for me. It''s going to be a fun group of kids. They want to get better, and they love the game. They come out here and we run a mile and hills before practice. Then we practice for two hours, and they love it. It''s a good chemistry between them." 

 

The working relationship between players is paramount, Dickens stresses, due to the team''s shortage of upperclassmen. Only Wofford and Milner are seniors, and Wofford will be expected to provide more of a vocal presence as the club''s most experienced player. 

 

Wofford also will be expected to help Jackson, who''ll play her first season at catcher.  

 

"I try to tell them everything I know, like how to block up the ball, so I can make them better," Wofford said. "I try to speak on the field to let them know where to go with the ball. A lot of people are new to positions, so we have to practice a lot on that. We have to take time out to let other people experience new things. There''s a lot of improving still to go." 

 

Wofford''s move to shortstop means Dickens will call the pitching signs. Last year, the Lady Volunteers relied on Wofford and Lyndsey Haynes to call the game.  

 

Having pitcher and catcher on the same page will be key, especially since Jackson and Barber are the top two options in the circle.  

 

Since March, the duo has worked out with Mississippi State assistant softball coach Karen Johns and MSU pitcher Lindsey Dunlap. With that guidance and the repetitions throughout the summer, Dickens has noticed growth in both pitchers.  

 

"Julianne is throwing harder and Mary Austin is throwing more pitches," Dickens said. "I feel a lot more confident now than I did at the beginning of the spring. Mary Austin has improved her execution of the pitches she throws, and it''s almost night and day with where she was in the spring." 

 

While Jackson figures to be the power pitcher and Barber the finesse hurler, Dickens is keen to keep the pressure of replacing an All-Star out of their minds. 

 

"That''s been a said thing and an unsaid thing ever since (Lyndsey) graduated," Dickens said. "We''ve been practicing since about the end of March, and we''ve been working on the pitching aspect a good bit. They know it''s going to be different. The more times you do it, though, the more confident you''ll get." 

 

 

 

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