Whether the Houston High School softball team has a successful season again in 2023 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The defending district champion Lady Tigers have a roster packed with the kind of experience and talent needed to make another deep run in postseason.
“When you’re looking at having as many experienced girls as we have who are coming back after a successful season, you can’t help but be excited for the potential of what this season could bring,” said head coach Jim Moore.
Houston finished the 2022 season with an overall record of 18-6, went 6-1 in South Central Association conference play and won the district championship with a thrilling victory over top-seeded Ava in the district tournament final at Mansfield. The Lady Tigers’ season concluded with a loss to Central – Park Hills in a Class 2 state tournament first round contest at Carter Field in Houston that drew the biggest crowd to ever watch a game at the venue.
As the Lady Tigers embark on a quest for another championship, upperclassmen will lead the way. The squad will have eight seniors on the roster, including seven returning starters: Mackenzie Bryan (first base and designated hitter), Madi Reed (second base), Aliyah Walker (pitcher and shortstop), Katie Chipps (catcher), Maddy Riley (left field), Karlee Curtis (center field) and Rhease Manier (right field).
Walker returns after a stellar 2022 season in which she earned many postseason honors, including All-SCA First Team, All-District First Team and All-Region First Team, and was named SCA Co-Player of the Year (she batted .494 for the campaign, drove in 26 runs and scored a team-high 39 times). Bryan, Curtis, Reed and Riley also received various forms of postseason recognition last year, as did junior Kelsey Pritchett (DH, pitcher, first base), who also was a regular starter. After starting as a sophomore, Chipps missed last season due to an injury.
“I think it’s amazing to have that many seniors,” Walker said. “I think that’s the most of any team around here.”
Now in his fifth season at the helm of HHS softball, Moore (who was named Co-SCA Coach of the Year in 2022) expects the Lady Tigers to rely on an aggressive approach again this year.
“We want to put the ball in play on offense and put as much pressure as we can on the defense,” he said. “We know we’ve got some pop in our bats, but it’s important to put the ball in play and force the defense to have to make plays.
“And we’re going to be aggressive on the base paths, and with our speed and experience, that should lead to scoring some runs and having some success.”
While hits and runs figure to play a major role, Moore said the Lady Tigers need to give the same amount of focus to catching balls and getting outs.
“Defense is where we always hang our hats,” he said. “We know we have to be good in the field in order to win a lot of ball games. There are going to be times when we’re going to have to win a 2-1 or 3-2 ballgame, and you can’t do that if you don’t make plays.
“We know we’re not going to make every play, but we’re going to learn from our mistakes. We always say it’s OK to make one mistake, but it’s not OK to make two.”
Houston hosted a preseason Jamboree on March 13, including Cabool, Mountain Grove and Plato.
Houston’s season-opener Tuesday at Steelville was rained out. Weather permitting, the Lady Tigers will travel Friday to Gainesville before competing Saturday at the annual Mountain Grove Tournament.
For good reason, the team’s goals are high this year.
“It’s one game at a time,” Moore said, “but we obviously have some high expectations for ourselves. We want to win tournament championships, we want to be in contention for the SCA championship, and ultimately it’s putting yourself in position to try to win another district championship.
“And I’d probably be lying to you if I didn’t say we’ve got our eyes on the Final Four. But you can’t get ahead of yourselves; that’s a long time from now and we have to stay focused – and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
Moore knows that other teams will view beating Houston as a significant accomplishment this year.
“We’re now the hunted instead of the hunters,” he said. “We kind of have a target on our backs and people are going to bring their best against us, and if we’re not ready day in and day out, they’re going to jump up and get us.
“But we’re going to enjoy the season. It’s easy to start looking down the road, but you can’t do that. I’m trying to get the girls to embrace the journey, because this team will never be together again. And for all the seniors, it’s a chance to enjoy one last ride together.”
Next week, Houston travels to Dora on Tuesday and opens SCA play Thursday at Salem. The Lady Tigers’ first home game is set for next Friday (March 31) against Summersville.
“We all know what we’re suppose to do this year,” Walker said, “and if we just do it, we’re going to be fine.”
“I’m really excited,” Reed said. “We’ve got a lot of experience and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do. It’s going to be a fun year and we definitely have a chance to make it as far as we want to.”
Having been there before, the Lady Tigers know what it will take to get there again.
“Hard work and practice,” Reed said. “We need to keep our heads in the game and focus on what we really want to achieve.”
“It comes down to taking it day by day, not getting bored with the fundamentals and enjoying the process,” Moore said.
2023 HHS SOFTBALL ROSTER
#8 Aliyah Walker, Pitcher/Shortstop
#7 Katie Chipps, Catcher
#3 Madi Reed, Second Base
#23 Mackenzie Bryan, First Base
#21 Rhease Manier, Right Field
#2 Maddy Riley, Left Field
#11 Karlee Curtis, Center Field
#9 Isabell Richardson, Right Field
#12 Maddie Holder, Second Base
#14 Anna Gale, Catcher/First Base
#18 Kelsey Pritchett, Pitcher/First Base/DH
#33 Nola Smith, Center Field
#1 Micah Chipps, Left Field
#22 Lacey Cavaness, Third Base
#24 Sophia Crites, Shortstop
#10 Katie Scheets, Catcher
#19 Katy Evans, Pitcher/Shortstop/Third Base
#00 Addison Neugebauer, Left Field/Right Field
#17 Gracyn McNiell, Catcher
#15 Natalie Clinton, Pitcher/Outfield
#30 Lilly Kincaid, Pitcher/Third Base
#40 Ashley Gilbert, First Base
#0 Madison Meier, Second Base
March 21: Steelville, 4:30 p.m. (V) (postponed)
March 24: Gainesville, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
March 25: Mountain Grove Tournament, TBA (V)
March 30: Salem, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
March 31: Summersville, 4:30 p.m. (V)
April 3: Mountain Grove, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 4: Mansfield, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 6: Thayer, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 11: Dixon, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 13: Cabool, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 15: Conway Tournament, TBA (V)
April 17: Ava, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 18: Eminence, 4 p.m. (V)
April 20: Willow Springs, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 24: Alton, 4:30 p.m. (V)
April 25: Liberty, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
April 27: Plato, TBA (V, JV)
April 28: Licking, 5 p.m. (V, JV)
April 29: Kennett, 4:30 p.m. (V, JV)
May 1: Bourbon, 4:30 p.m. (V)
*Home games in bold