A newly paved road behind Lakeside High School now sits where an underdeveloped gravel path previously marked the way to the Lady Panther softball field.
The new road, which includes lined parking spaces, was long overdue. However, the blacktop won't be the only upgrade at the Lakeside softball field this season. The 2006 team is a newer, more improved version of Lakeside softball that, like the newly paved road, could make a trip to a Lady Panther softball game a better experience for Lakeside fans this year.
"We went from having no seniors on the team two years ago to two seniors last year," Lakeside softball coach Jay Matthews said. "This year we'll have four seniors."
While the numbers are on the rise, the number of quality players on the Lakeside bench this year will also increase. An Evans transfer and a senior who sat out last year because of ineligibility will rejoin the team this season. The additions will complement two seniors who are no strangers to the Lady Panther diamond. Seniors Hillary Hall (catcher) and Kayle Hutchins (shortstop) have started for the Lady Panthers since their freshman year and said the 2006 season has the potential to be a strong one.
"There's not a person on the team we can't put out there. We can use everybody and not lose anything. We haven't had that before," Hutchins said.
The depth starts at the pitchers' circle where a pair of Lady Panthers will return as two of the county's best. Senior Andrea Batchelor will toe the rubber this season along with sophomore standout Kaitlin Hill. As a freshman last year, Hill earned state tournament experience and has already been mentioned as one of the top pitchers in the region by other coaches in the county.
"We know our pitching is strong. Both of them do well under pressure," Hutchins said.
Facing one of the toughest regions in the state, Matthews said the team will be better prepared for a more challenging schedule this year including an early-season tournament at Statesboro. The readiness stems, in part, from a large group of Lady Panthers who have come up through the Lakeside softball system, giving the team new depth.
"The biggest difference between this team and those from past years is we've always been able to match our three or four best players with other teams' best. This year we're able to compete one through nine with anybody," Matthews said.
The Lakeside season will begin today at Baldwin. The Lady Panthers will play one more regular season game and a tournament before Baldwin returns the favor in Lakeside's home-opener on Aug. 30 at 5 p.m.
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