2023 season preview: The Troup softball team is retooled and ready for a new season
Published 8:30 am Saturday, July 29, 2023
The Troup softball team is about to get back after it. With games starting in a week’s time, the Tigers are ramping up their preparation heading into the 2023 season.
This will be a retooling year as many of the familiar faces in the starting lineup graduated in May. The Tigers ended up losing nine players from last season’s team. A youth movement is in full effect this year.
“I think it will be good for us, everybody is hungry for success,” Troup head coach Ryan Simpson said. “I’m excited to see how we do against teams that have a lot of 11th and 12th graders that are key established players.”
This year’s team will also bring with it a ton of versatility. This will allow Simpson to tweak and adjust her lineup on the fly, especially early in the season as she works through her best starting lineup.
“I think we have a bunch of utility players that can play everywhere,” Simpson said. “They have really bought in and are quick to try a new position if we feel like it is right for them.”
The team has seen a real resurgence under the guidance of Simpson, who is now going into her fourth year in charge of the program. The team missed the playoffs the year prior to her hiring but have made the playoffs all three years she has been in charge. Not only have they made the playoffs every year since she took over, the team has also made the round of 16 each year with the team falling to Wayne County 10-4 to halt last year’s playoff run.
Now, the team is hungry for even more playoff success despite the relative youth of the squad. One of the reasons Simpson feels so confident in her young players is the work that has been done by Lauren Kuerzi with the Long Cane softball program, which gives the future Tigers a stronger foundation to build off of.
“We have literally got like 12 incoming freshmen, and they are a talented group,” Simpson said. “I think having a middle school program is so great. I come from Alabama where we have had middle school programs forever.
“Having seventh and eighth graders playing games is definitely a big help for us.”
The Tigers will be looking to build off their third place finish in the region last year but will face some stiff competition in LaGrange, Trinity Christian and Whitewater.
Camdyn Bassett might just be the most important Tiger heading into the 2023 season. The junior finished last season as the region 4-AAAA second team all-region pitcher.
Bassett led the team in innings pitched (69 1/3), strikeouts (79) while putting up an ERA of just 1.41. Despite drawing harder assignments this year as she moves into the spot vacated by Maggie McDonald, who graduated and earned a scholarship to play Division II softball, Simpson expects her to be even better this year.
“She has been playing travel ball all season long, and she has played in some major tournaments,” Simpson said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does because we lost Maggie, and that was a big loss for us.”
Anna Grace Keller transferred into Troup from Flint River Academy last season and saw some time on the mound, appearing in five games with three of those being starts. She finished with a 4.38 ERA last year and figures to have an even bigger role on the team in her junior season.
“She is a lefty pitcher which is great because left-handed pitchers can really mess batters up,” Simpson said.
Kaitlyn Smalley, a sophomore, is in her first year playing high school softball but will likely see some time on the mound this year. Kaylee Umfress, another sophomore, made just one varsity appearance last year but got a ton of work with the JV team and could see her appearances grow this year.
“Kaylee (Umfress) is a lefty and has a different style of throwing,” Simpson said.
“Our pitching staff are not just pitchers, they can play in the field too.”
With Chloe Liechty gone, the Tigers will be in search of a new starting backstop. She missed some games last season, but was a starter when healthy. In steps Gracie Baker, a sophomore, who has big shoes to fill, but has the confidence of her head coach.
“She has been in lessons, and she has been working with (Troup assistant coach) Haley Dodgins, who was the catcher at LaGrange College when she played there,” Simpson said. “She has come a long way. She caught for JV last year.”
It will be a big step up for Baker, but one that her coach feels she is ready to make.
Bassett will likely be at third base when she is not on the mound. She led the team with four home runs and was second on the team with 18 RBIs while hitting .274 with an on-base percentage north of .360. The do-it-all player was outstanding on the mound but also in the field and from the plate as she was named region 4-AAAA all-region honorable mention as an infielder last season.
When Bassett is on the mound, which will be quite a regular occurrence, Patience Watkins will slide over to third base. The senior played in 16 games last season in which she hit .294 with four RBIs and eight runs scored. She will be expected to take on a larger role and will find a starting slot elsewhere when she is not at third base.
“Between the two of them, they will lock down that position, but I also think they both need to be in the field somewhere whether it is at third or somewhere else,” Simpson said. “Patience plates third and will be playing some in the outfield as well this year.
“Their bats are going to be a must in our lineup.”
The Tigers will have to replace two first team all-region players in the infield with McDonald departing as well as shortstop Ramsey Clark, who will suit up for Southern Union in the 2023-24 season.
Zoe Graham is likely to have to fill the big shoes left at shortstop.
“Zoe is back with us after playing volleyball last year, but we got her back this year,” Simpson said. “She is looking at being our starting shortstop.”
Hadilee Arnold, a senior, played in just three games a season ago but will see more action this year. She could find herself as the team’s starting second baseman with Smalley and Watkins also pushing her for the spot at second.
Madeira Sirmons, a senior and one of the leaders of the team this year, will once again slot in as the team’s starting first baseman as she did a season ago. Sirmons hit .338 with nine RBIs and 13 runs scored.
The outfield starts with Sheniyah Philpot, a sophomore, who will once again start in the outfield this year. She has the centerfield spot locked down and enjoyed a special freshman campaign a season ago, finishing second team all-region.
“She is learning and has worked in season and offseason to get better,” Simpson said. “I’m really looking forward to what she can do now that she is a little older and has added some muscle.”
She hit .365 with 11 runs and 10 RBIs a season ago.
Joining her in the outfield will be senior Haley Kitchens. Kitchens was the fourth outfielder last season and someone who played in 17 games in 2022 and will likely get the start in left field. In right field will be a platoon of Watkins, Smalley and Umfress, depending on who is on the mound on any given gameday.
FRESHMAN TO WATCH:
Kennedy McCoy is a freshman pitcher that Simpson has her eyes on.
“I’m excited to see if there are some opportunities to get her some playing time on the varsity level and get her prepared like we did with Kaylee (Umfress) last year,” Simpson said.
WHEN DOES IT START:
The Troup Tigers will kick off their season next Friday in the Callaway Classic at Shuford Fields.