With Alexander City being virtually underwater for the better part of a week, a lot of questions are still surrounding the Benjamin Russell softball team.
The Wildcats graduated a lot from last year’s squad that won its second straight area championship, but they also bring back a few really key pieces. The most important of those pieces is Taylor Harris. Despite being just a sophomore, Harris is now a three-year starter and she’ll be relied upon heavily both in the circle and at the plate.
Harris threw 101 1/3 innings as a freshman and struck out 121. She gave up just 47 earned runs and walked only one. Offensively, she led the Wildcats with a .416 batting average; she had 17 doubles, 28 RBIs and 35 runs scored. Plus, she wasn’t too shabby of a first baseman when need be.
“With Taylor, she’s grown up so much since last season,” Benjamin Russell coach Jessica Johnson said. “I don’t think I could set any expectations for her; it’s whatever she wants to do. That goes for in the box too. She’s really hitting the ball right now. I hope she can just be consistent and keep contributing.”
But Harris can’t do it all. Although many softball teams ride the arm of one strong player, BRHS doesn’t want to do that to Harris so there’s going to be a committee behind her. Leah Leonard, Ryann Ruffin and Carley Henderson are all going to pitch some innings.
“Someone is going to have to step up and help her and they have looked really good at practice,” Johnson said. “We got them some time at the umpires clinic, and we added a pitch to Ryann’s arsenal since that and it seems to have helped. With the three of them, the big thing is going to be staying consistent, throwing strikes and letting the defense work and us not making errors.”
That was a big ask of last year’s team though. Benjamin Russell committed a staggering 111 errors last season and nearly half the runs it allowed was unearned. That’s been a huge focus during the offseason, and Johnson is still working to put together a starting lineup. Haylee Hunter has been working at shortstop, third and catcher while Bailey Underwood is seeing time at shortstop and outfield. Brooke Bowden could play either short or third, and Ruffin has also been practicing at second. Emma Tapley will start at first base but may also see some time at catcher. Naskia Russell and Chloe Davis will likely play in the outfield, and Leonard could play basically any position in the infield.
“We’re very versatile,” Johnson said. “We have a bunch of people that can do a lot of different things; we just have to figure out what combination is going to be best. But we are very versatile, and that is a good thing.”
Johnson is also excited about newcomer Autumn McManus, who is a freshman and could play several different positions. McManus has also been one of the strongest hitters this preseason. Hunter came on strong at the end of last year and Underwood has also hit well during practice; plus, Harris is always a threat for a big hit.
“The biggest thing for us offensively is going to be the mental side of the game,” Johnson said. “They gotta keep their heads on straight and if they go into a slump, work out of it and just take it one at-bat at a time.”
Benjamin Russell will also rely on its speed quite a bit again this year but Johnson said the Wildcats still need to put in work on their bunting.
With the season beginning today at Dadeville, the Wildcats still have a lot of kinks to work out but Johnson has been preaching since the beginning of the preseason, success isn’t going to come overnight.
“We’re going to learn as we go,” Johnson said. “One of the big things that we started pushing early is you always want to win but this is process. It’s a long season; there’s going to be ups and downs this year, but we have to take something positive from everything we do and we’ve gotta grow every time we are on the field. I think this team has a lot of potential, so we just have to see what they can do.”