Feb 5, 2018
PORTLAND – The Portland Panthers softball team is coming off its most successful season is school history. A cherry on top of their first regional appearance in school history is just one senior graduated from last year’s team, while four seniors take the role of leaders in 2018.
Head coach Vanessa Tomlinson enters her eighth season as head coach of the Purple and will have the luxury of having 19 players on this year’s roster, most of which are class of 2020.
“The girls that have come out for the team are the ones that I expected to come out,” Tomlinson said. “We are very young this year as 10 of our players are sophomores.
“However, they may be young but they have a ton of experience playing travel ball throughout the year as well as taking hitting lessons this offseason. I really like the atmosphere of this year’s team.”
Even though Tomlinson hasn’t been able to spend much time with the team this offseason due to her role as assistant coach for the women’s basketball team, but she says she likes what she has heard from her assistant coach Joann Keith.
“Coach Keith has really been optimistic this offseason,” she added. “They haven’t been able to do much other than strength and conditioning, but she has really liked what she has seen from them so far.”
Joining coach Tomlinson in the dugout this season will be Lynn McGee, Joann Keith, Jenna England, and Dannie Staff.
“The message to the team is to build off last year,” Tomlinson added. “We didn’t lose a lot of pieces off last year’s team. I think we have a good chance at putting the pieces together.”
One way for the team to build off last year’s region tournament run is to play the best of the best as far as competition to get ready for another late-season run. The Lady Panthers will play in a variety of top notch tournaments including the Commando Classic, Brentwood HS Invitational and the Gulf Coast Classic.
“We want to make sure we are playing the best teams we can play,” she added. “I want our girls to see that we can play with compete with those teams.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Fitzgerald pitched just about every day last year for the Lady Panthers and will again be relied upon heavily this season following Kaylee Walker’s surgery to fix a torn labrum. However, the class of 2020 product will not be alone in the circle for 2018 as she will be joined by upperclassmen Samantha Robertson and Abbi Thomerson.
“I expect to be close to where we were last year,” Tomlinson added on expectations. “We still have a really young team and sometimes that takes a couple years of playing together but we definitely feel like we are going to be back in the hunt, if not getting further.”
The Lady Panthers open the 2018 season with a play day at Lebanon on March 3. Portland competes in District 9-AAA.