Troup softball coach Blair Shimandle is enjoying the ride.
When the 2014 season rolls around, Shimandle will be tasked with filling three rather large holes that’ll be left by the current seniors.
Outfielder Kalah Mingo, third baseman Alex Duncan and first baseman Jordan Pike have all been key parts of the varsity team since their freshman seasons, and they’re now well into their final seasons as Troup softball players.
“I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been trying not to look too far ahead,” Shimandle said before practice on Wednesday. “You can get people who can play, who can get the job done, but they’re just a group of girls that you’ll never be able to replace. That’s how it is sometimes.”
Mingo and Duncan have been starting since they were freshmen, and Pike became a full-time player as a sophomore, although she played a lot during her freshman season.
The three players, as Shimandle describes them, are “the core” of the team, and the team will likely go as far as the three seniors can take it.
Duncan is enjoying a stellar senior season, and she leads the team with four home runs, including a long ball against a powerful Columbus team.
Duncan is also an exceptional third baseman, and that’s a challenging position in fast pitch softball where there’s little reaction time before the ball is there.
“Alex, she’s held her own at third base for four years,” Shimandle said. “We all know what she can do. She’s got reactions you can’t teach.”
Duncan uses another sport to describe what it’s like to play third base.
“You learn to stay low to the ground,” she said. “You’re more like a hockey goalie.”
Mingo, who hit close to .500 a year ago, continues to be a force in the lineup, and she also anchors the outfield.
“Mingo makes everything in the outfield look easy,” Shimandle said.
Pike, meanwhile, has been a rock at first base, and she has helped the infielders avoid a lot of errors with her ability to come up with the ball.
“Pike makes our infield,” Shimandle said. “Anytime there’s a bad throw, she almost always picks it out of the dirt.”
Pike said she has worked hard to become an elite first baseman.
“Some of it comes natural, but you always have to work, no matter what you’re doing,” she said.
While what they do on the field is important, the three seniors also understand they have critical leadership positions as well.
Troup has a lot of younger players, and Duncan said the three seniors have tried to help them along as they adjust to varsity softball.
“We’re a young team this year,” said she said “A lot of girls had to step up, and we were always there to help them. I have full confidence that they’ll do good this year.”
Mingo remembers what it was like to be thrust into the lineup as a freshman, so she has tried to help her younger teammates as best she can.
“A lot of girls, they don’t have much experience,” Mingo said. “It’s good to give them a little tip here that you’ve learned. You’ve experience it all in high school.”
Pike said the seniors have a commitment to share the knowledge they’ve gained over the years.
“It’s not just having fun, enjoying your senior year, it’s also trying to pass down what you’ve learned,” she said.
The three seniors are good friends, and they’ve known each other for years, well before their days as high-school teammates.
“This is not just a team, it’s our family,” Pike said. “Me and Alex, we’ve played together since T-ball.”
Duncan, meanwhile, can remember when she first met Mingo, and how impressed she was with her future teammate’s ability to crush the ball.
“With my dad’s travel-ball team, we were holding tryouts,” Duncan said. “All the sudden, this girls, she’s hitting home runs one after the other. I was like, who is that? Somebody said, that’s Kalah Mingo. That was the start of our friendship.”
Mingo said it has been a special experience being able to play alongside teammates she is so close to.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “You’re playing with people you’re friends with. We’re like sisters.”