July 29, 2010 8:10:00 AM
Bud Lowe will play a numbers game this season.
The hope for Lowe, who is in his first season as Heritage Academy fast-pitch softball coach, is that those numbers -- how many players he has on his team and how many victories the squad gets -- will only get bigger.
But with only 12 players, including no seniors, one junior, and one sophomore, Lowe knows the Lady Patriots will have to take small steps to build a program.
"Our goal this year is to have fun and to learn," said Lowe, who will lead five freshmen, three seventh-graders, and two sixth-graders. "We''re in this for the long haul. We don''t have anybody who is going to graduate, and at least we know they will be here one more year. We''re starting from scratch, basically."
Lowe coached the school''s slow-pitch softball team in the spring. It was the first season the school brought that squad back in a number of years.
Ginny Lowery coached the school''s fast-pitch team last season. Led by six seniors, including pitcher Kristyn Atkins, who will continue her career at Itawamba Community College, Heritage Academy was competitive in the largest classification in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools.
Without Atkins and stalwarts Morgan Lamb, Jessee Mims, Madison Ford and others, the Lady Patriots will turn to a roster that features junior Logan Waggoner as the oldest player.
Waggoner played second base last season and is expected to play first and third base this season.
"It is going to be insanely different this season," Waggoner said when asked what it is going to be like to be on such a young team. "We lost a lot of talent, but we''re getting a bunch of upcoming talent."
Waggoner knows what it will take to grow the program. She has been playing fast-pitch softball since the sixth grade. She feels chemistry and togetherness will be keys this season to laying a foundation for future success. To that end, Waggoner knows she will be expected to set a positive tone on and off the field.
"I know I am going to have to help some of the younger girls out because some of them have never played ball," Waggoner said. "I am going to have to help out as much as I can and have a good attitude."
Lowe believes that won''t be a problem because he has liked what he has seen in practice. He said the team has started from the beginning and worked with fundamentals like leading off bases and baserunning. He said details like that will play a big part in the team''s ability to score runs.
"The younger girls have really come out and really shown vast improvement," Lowe said. "I think the biggest thing is they have shown they want to be here. If they want to they will learn, and they''re doing a really good job.
"They''re a good bunch of girls. They all get along well. That is another thing I stressed: We''re a team. In the past, there has been two groups -- seniors and the younger girls. They are all about the same age now, so it is working."
Sophomore Allie Lowe, coach Lowe''s daughter, will be counted on to play a handful or roles this season. After playing catcher last season, Lowe could play in the infield, in the circle as pitcher, or be back behind the plate this season. She also figures to be one of the team''s best hitters.
"We''re just going to have to work hard together and have a lot of leadership out here," Lowe said. "We have to stay positive whether we win or lose.
"I think it we all stay together in a couple of years that we will be really good."
The maturation of freshman Hannah Hawkins, who is working on becoming a pitcher, and Catelin McLain, who is learning the catcher position, will help solidify the defense and allow other players -- like freshman Shiloh Ellis, who could play several positions -- to settle on one spot on the field.
Heritage Academy will open the season Friday at Central Academy in Macon. On Saturday, it will play host to Central Academy, Starkville Academy, and Oak Hill Academy at Propst Park in a round-robin tournament. The action on two fields will start at 9 a.m. and run through the day.
"We''re going to be competitive because we have gone back to the basics," Bud Lowe said. "They know how to bunt, to run the bases, and the point I have stressed to them is we can only give teams three outs each inning. We''re going to try not to make too many mistakes.
"I think we''ll be a small-ball team, and for the future it looks bright," Lowe said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.