Autumn Walker makes a catch in front of teammate Hailey Dodson.

Summer leagues are allowing the young players on the Houston High School softball team to gain valuable experience.

Seven of the team’s nine starters are playing together on a 16-and-under team that competes in two leagues. The Lady Tigers completed the Texas County League this past weekend and continue to play in the competitive Rolla Recreational League.

Coach Willy Walker said the games are invaluable for his team, which at times started seven freshmen last season. All but two of his returning players — one is too old and another chose to take the summer off — are part of the summer league team.

“I wanted them playing as much as they could this summer — without playing too much,” Walker said. “We have a lot of young kids. I want to get them more experience and help them out with their team confidence — comrardarie and trusting each other.”

Houston lost just one local game this summer. The team was without three of its starters, Walker said. The Lady Tigers completed Texas County League play on Saturday with a 21-11 victory against Willow Springs in the championship game.

The level of competition is much higher in the Rolla league, Walker said. Waynesville, Lebanon, Sullivan and Rolla are among the teams the Lady Tigers face. They play there each Wednesday night.

“There are good programs from that area,” Walker said. “The game is faster there.”

Walker said he has focused on subtle but important parts of the game this summer. He wants his infielders to better understand bunt coverage and where to be on steal attempts. He also expects his players to improve their baserunning instincts and be able to make decisions without being told when to stay or go. Walker said those split seconds can mean the difference between being safe or out.

Defensively, Walker said his team is still prone to having sloppy innings.

“We’re still leaving open innings,” he said. “I’d like for us to put together an entire game without leaving the door open. Still yet, we have one inning where we don’t play to our ability.

“I want us to play with confidence, know the situation and get the job done.”

The Lady Tigers have three more games in the Rolla league and will have camp the last week of July. There is a dead week before practices begin Aug. 8.

“This group has put in a lot of time this summer, and I expect them to show a lot of improvement,” Walker said. “They will look more like juniors this year than sophomores this season.”

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