“We’re as talented as we ever have been, but so is everybody else,” Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. “Very good chance, if we play a full season, that we’ll probably set the team home run record.”
The Lady Raiders hit a record 59 home runs in 2018 when it went to the NJCAA national tournament, yet another power record that Three Rivers has set in recent years.
Ten years ago, the career record for home runs was 10. Now that doesn’t crack the top five for a single season at Three Rivers, and Allison Pingel established the new career record of 28 in 2019.
Shaya Kinsey hit 10 home runs in a single season at Three Rivers in 2011. Jessica Menz then hit 11 in 2014, Abby Tillotson hit 12 in 2015, Destiny Bolen got 15 the year after that before Pingel got 21 as a freshman in 2018.
Along the way, another seven Lady Raiders hit at least 10 home runs in a season only to finish second on the team to a record-setter. If the preseason is any indication, Three Riv- ers might be even stronger.
Every year, we’ve been able to improve our talent level. Our pitchers are pretty good, and our hitters have been lighting them up,” Null said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet, but I think it’s pretty good.”
With the added practice time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raiders have taken full advantage of the new Gene Bess weight room in the Libla Family Sports Complex.
“Our 7-9 holes could be a 3-5 on a lot of teams,” Null said. “I think we’ll be able to wear down pitchers because there’s no place in our lineup to relax.”
The Lady Raiders were 11-2, including several wins against ranked opponents, with nine home runs before last year was shut down due to the coronavirus.
The schedule was to test Three Rivers early once again. The Lady Raiders were to face No. 14 Wallace State on Saturday at the Tigerfest in Booneville, MS before the weather cancelled that event, and also will play No. 5 Seminole State College two weeks later.
“We’re going to be tested early, but it will help prepare us for region play, which will be a dogfight. We have some extra losses, but it all just helps us for region play,” Null said.
Region rival Crowder is also ranked at No. 20.
Third-year sophomores Zoe Bisby and Jenny Morey return after taking advantage of their extra year of eligibility offered by the NJCAA to spring athletes because of the pandemic.
Morey, a Van Buren alumna, will bat near the top of the lineup along with Molly Spangler. Null expects the duo to steal a lot of bases this year.
Bisby is back in the clean-up spot and will play second base.
Kindi Puckett also returns as the team’s top pitcher, with Cayton Sloan and Makayla Bryant vying for the No. 2 spot. East Carter’s McKenna Moore is coming off a strong fall and will see time, as will hard-throwing freshman Makale Floyd.
Malden’s Gracie Thomas is one of several players vying to be the designated hitter. This year’s roster also includes Naomi Crowley (East Carter) and Morgan Shockley (Van Buren).
Former Lady Raider and Van Buren alumna Summer Shockley has joined the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic