With a roster loaded with experience and depth, The Houston High School softball team begins the 2022 season this week.
The Lady Tigers will be led again this year by Jim Moore, who is in his fourth season at the helm of HHS softball.
“If we can stay healthy and gel,” Moore said, “we have the potential to have a solid year.”
Last year, the Lady Tigers finished with an overall record of 16-4 and went 3-1 in the South Central Association to earn a second straight conference crown. But after winning twice in the Class 2 District 4 Tournament at Mountain Grove, Houston was blanked 7-0 by Forsyth in the championship game.
Moore expects the squad to be in the running for championships at two midseason tournaments on this year’s schedule, and hopes the players will be at their peak when the postseason arrives.
“We just want to enjoy the process,” he said, “and use the regular season to try to get battle-tested and prepare ourselves as much as possible for the stretch run.”
The Lady Tigers have 10 returning varsity players, including four who received all-district recognition last season: seniors Mali Brookshire and Hannah Dzurick and juniors Katie Jo Chipps and Aliyah Walker.
Moore figures the team should be strong in several areas.
“I’d like to think our defense is going to be pretty solid,” he said, “but that’s a work in progress. Offensively, we want to make sure our lineup is pretty solid from top to bottom, and we feel like there aren’t any holes in there. And our pitching should be pretty good again.”
As is customary for a Moore-coached team, the Lady Tigers will be aggressive on the base paths whenever possible.
“Running the bases is our bread and butter,” Moore said. “We want to put pressure on other teams’ defenses and force them to make mistakes. And I really think one of our team’s strongest points is team speed.”
Houston’s pitching staff features Walker (the team’s ace starter), Dzurick and 6-foot sophomore Kelsey Pritchett.
“Having options like we have is nice,” Moore said. “All three of those girls have looked good so far this year.”
Chipps will be the Lady Tigers’ starting catcher again this year, while Pritchett and junior Mackenzie Bryan will share duties at first base. The rest of the infield includes junior Madi Reed at second base, Dzurick at shortstop and Brookshire at third. The outfield will consist of junior Maddy Riley in left (with sophomore Rhease Manier sharing time), junior Karlee Curtis in center and senior Mackenzie Holder in right.
“We want teams to know that when they face us, they better be sharp in three phases,” Moore said, “and if they’re not, they’re going to have a hard time beating us. We also don’t want to beat ourselves. If we get beat, we want it to be because the other team beat us, not because of making errors or doing other things to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Jake Brookshire returns as Moore’s assistant this year, and the HHS program also now has a volunteer assistant coach: 2021 graduate Riley Scheets.
The SCA has grown this season, as all eight members have moved their softball programs from fall to spring.
“A lot of the small schools are making the move,” Moore said, “because it’s hard to have enough girls for softball and volleyball.
“We’d sure like to defend the championship.”
LONG BALL TRIFECTA
The Lady Tigers kicked off the 2022 campaign with an 11-5 win over Steelville Monday at Carter Field in Houston.
The game was highlighted by a rare display of power, as Lady Tigers batters belted three home runs.
Holder began the barrage in the bottom of the first inning with a towering 2-run shot high into the pine trees beyond the fence right-center field.
Pritchett was next, crushing a line drive in the bottom of the fourth frame that quickly left the park in center field.
Reed completed the set with a 2-run bomb to straightaway left field in the bottom of the sixth.
As Houston erupted for 8 runs in the sixth inning, Holder and Pritchett each smacked RBI triples. Holder also banged and a 2-run single in the frame and finished with a 3-hit, 5-RBI outing.
Junior Aliyah Walker pitched a complete game for the Lady Tigers, scattering 10 hits and while striking out 8 and issuing 2 walks.
Houston is scheduled to host Niangua on Thursday (March 24) and play in the annual Mountain Grove Tournament on Saturday (March 26). The Lady Tigers host Dora on Tuesday (March 29).
“We’re ahead of where we usually are at this time of year because we have so many veterans coming back,” Moore said. “We’re still teaching fundamentals, of course, but it’s great that we can work on more advanced stuff.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
HHS 2022 SOFTBALL ROSTER
Katie Jo Chipps
Head coach: Jim Moore
Assistant coach: Jake Brookshire
Volunteer coach: Riley Scheets
To view a photo gallery from the Lady Tigers’ game against Steelville (with the option to purchase photos), click here.