Lambert softball head coach Brooks Youngblood isn’t trying to ignore the expectations placed on the Longhorns heading into this season.
They didn’t just win the region last year: They ran the table, going 15-0. With just one starter gone from that team, it makes sense that this year’s Longhorns would be held to an even higher standard.
“You guys, other teams, they’re probably going to look at us as, yeah, probably the favorite to win again,” Youngblood said. “And rightfully so.”
Lambert loses slugger Marissa Guimbarda, the 2016 Forsyth County News Player of the Year, but other than that, they have starters at every other position but one coming back, including senior pitcher/infielder Kassidy Krupit, a Delaware commit who was named the county’s Pitcher of the Year last season, and infielder Brooke Miller, who compiled a .514 on-base percentage as a freshman last year.
When Youngblood would think about this year’s squad during the offseason, his thoughts often settled on what he expects to be a very solid defense. The only starting position to fill is right field, where candidates include senior Catherine Harper, sophomore Anna Jackson, sophomore Ansley Hyde and senior Alexis Sewell.
“We've got our pitcher back, got our full defense back,” Youngblood said. “So with that, you start to think, ‘Man, if we can score two or three runs each game, we might win a lot of games.’”
That may seem like a conservative total for Youngblood to peg, but Lambert’s run through region play in 2016 was in large part due to the Longhorns’ steadiness in close games – six of their region wins were decided by one run, and two more were decided by two.
They’ll have to deal with returning pitchers like Hannah Guthrie at West Forsyth and Bailey McCachren at Forsyth Central, so Youngblood is making sure that Lambert can produce offense through bunts and steals as much as through doubles and home runs.
“Everyone on the team knows their role,” senior outfielder Catie Rose Hays said. “…I’m not a power hitter, I’m not going to be the one that’s going to jack it over the fence, but I’m going to be the one that gets a hit when we need to get a hit. I think every other girl on our team has that mindset of, ‘I’ll bunt when I need to bunt, I’ll slap when I need to slap to back Kassidy up.’”
Last season, Youngblood told the team that going undefeated through region play would be “impossible.” Doing it for a second straight season, then, would be doubly so. The Longhorns won’t be crushed if they slip up once or twice, though, as long as they come out in first and get the top seed for the state playoffs.
That’s where Lambert’s invincibility against county schools faded last year, as the Longhorns’ season ended with a 2-1 loss to South Forsyth in Columbus.
The disappointment of that early exit was offset, though, by the Longhorns’ pride in having reached the state quarterfinal bracket for the first time in school history. With almost that entire team returning, the expectations won’t be any lower.
“We were kind of setting the bar (in 2016),” Krupit said. “And hopefully this year we can beat that. It’s not going to be easy, but we really know what we want, and we know what it’s like, and we want to get there again.”