Photo by Kyle Parmley.
Abby Jones, pictured, and Clara Fuller give the Eagles a pair of quality pitching options. Jones put together a 2.97 earned run average in 99 1/3 innings pitched, while Fuller hurled 111 innings with a 3.72 ERA.
One of the first statements Kaitlin Griffin made to her new softball team was that she expected to make the state tournament.
Oak Mountain High School had not reached that stage since 2002 — reaching the consolation final the year following a Class 5A state championship in 2001 — making for some wide-eyed glances and tilted heads.
But Griffin knew the talent she was inheriting.
“I knew about the program, and I knew the talent they had,” Griffin said upon assuming the head coaching position at Oak Mountain before the 2016 season.
Having the likes of Carmyn Greenwood, Ashlee Sanders and O’Neil Roberson made for a potent Eagle lineup.
Abby Jones and Clara Fuller in the pitching circle was a duo more than capable of getting the job done.
The Eagles soared last season, slugging their way to a phenomenal regular season, good enough to qualify them for the North Central Regional in Tuscaloosa.
However, the season ended abruptly there, as Oak Mountain struggled and was eliminated a step shy of its objective.
“Our expectations were to be at the state tournament, and we just did not play well at all,” Griffin said.
One reason for the Eagles’ struggles in the regional round was their reliance on the home run ball throughout the season, led by Roberson’s school record 21 bombs. With deeper fences than they were accustomed to seeing in the regular season, the offense fell flat.
Even with Roberson returning this spring, Griffin hopes to mold the offense into a well-rounded unit.
“We’ve got to score runs, small ball and moving runners and everything like that,” she said. “That’s really going to be our focus this year, just hitting the ball hard and having good at-bats.”
With that taste in their mouths, the Eagles are looking to put together another great season in Griffin’s second year at the helm, one that ends at Lagoon Park in Montgomery in the state tournament. “They remember how they felt, and they were all so mad at the end of the tournament. They don’t want to experience that again,” Griffin said.
Oak Mountain will have to replace Greenwood and Sanders, who each signed with SEC programs (Greenwood with Auburn, Sanders with Mississippi State).
To fill those holes in center field and at shortstop, Griffin will look to slide a pair of lineup regulars over to assume the role. Jenna Galloway will likely take on the center field spot, after holding down left field last season. Maddie Katona is expected to slide over from third base to shortstop.
The Eagles also have their two-headed monster back on the mound with Jones and Fuller. Jones put together a 2.97 earned run average in 99 1/3 innings pitched, while Fuller hurled 111 innings with a 3.72 ERA.
“Luckily, we have two good pitchers this year coming back,” Griffin said. “That’s really important for us, because a lot of teams don’t have pitching and luckily, we have two. It’ll be important for us to get them going.”
Louisville commit Cassady Greenwood will continue her responsibility of handling the pitchers from the catcher position.
Roberson will spearhead the attack at the plate once again, and has signed with Mississippi State to play beyond her high school years.
“She doesn’t want to have that senior slump where she just kind of coasts through the season,” Griffin said. “She really wants to get after it and have another good season, especially after last year. Her expectations from me are the same.”
Griffin’s expectations remain consistent from her first year. The Eagles have no other intention than returning to the state tournament, and they will need all hands on deck to ensure that happens.