Lady Jags looking for postseason success

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Spain Park Lady Jaguars softball team is off to a hot start at 17-6, and is currently ranked the No. 6 team in 7A. (Contributed)

The Spain Park Lady Jaguars softball team is off to a hot start at 17-6, and is currently ranked the No. 6 team in 7A. (Contributed)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

HOOVER – As of March 24, the Spain Park Lady Jaguars softball team held a 17-6 record, and had won 11 of their last 13 games. The Lady Jaguars are averaging nearly seven runs per game and are giving up less than four, and are ranked as the No. 6 team in 7A. CJ Hawkins is in her ninth year as the head coach of the Lady Jaguars, and has what she believes to be one of her most talented teams since arriving in 2008.

“This is one of the better ones,” Hawkins said. “We’ve been rolling really since 2011.”

The best finish in Hawkins’ tenure to date was in 2014 when the Lady Jaguars made an appearance in the 6A state quarterfinals, finishing fifth overall in 6A with a 49-17 record. The goal this season, as it is every season for Hawkins and Spain Park, is to outstrip that mark and win a state title.

An incredibly talented junior class is leading this team on that quest. Mary Katherine Tedder, Julianna Cross, Caroline Parker and Mary Kate Teague along with Jenna Olszewski are the backbone of Spain Park’s offense and defense this year.

“This is a really strong junior class,” Hawkins said of the group. “We’re fortunate to have that group.”

Olszewski, an Auburn commit since her freshman season, went down with a hand injury in the very first game of the season this year, and is expected back in early April. Olszewski was a First Team All-Shelby County selection as a sophomore with 52 RBIs and a .401 batting average, and her absence has been an adjustment for the Lady Jags.

Tedder however is the headline talent of this team. A Texas commit, Tedder controls the middle of the field from the shortstop position with a fielding percentage of 92 percent, and is also one of the most powerful hitters in the state as well. She has a batting average of .477 through 26 games and a slugging percentage of a whopping 1.277. In her 65 at-bats, she has struck out just six times while collecting 31 hits. Of those 31 hits, 14 have been home runs, and she has collected 41 RBIs as well.

Cross, Parker and Teague have all combined for 53 hits on the year as well, while freshman Maddie Majors has also put up strong numbers, with 27 hits on 63 at-bats, and sports a batting average of .429.

While Tedder is the juggernaut talent on this team, she is not alone atop the Spain Park hitting food chain. Kynadi Tipler, a senior Delaware State commit, has matched Tedder through 23 games with 31 hits of her own, and recently went yard twice against Mountain Brook on March 22. Tipler has scored 30 runs, the most on the team, and has a team-best .508 batting average while reaching base safely on just shy of 60 percent of her plate appearances.

“Kynadi is having a phenomenal year,” Hawkins said of her lone contributing senior. “She hit two out against Mountain Brook and is having a great year.”

From a pitching perspective, this team is led from the mound by a pair of freshmen in Caroline Kendrick and Kate Campbell. Never before has Hawkins had a team at Spain Park that relied so heavily on young arms, but both have had stellar starts to the year.

“They’re young arms,” Hawkins said of her two freshmen. “They’re both lefties, which is nice. These are the youngest arms we’ve had at Spain Park. Chad Miller, our pitching coach, has done a great job with them. He does a remarkable job with pitchers and catchers. They both are completely different kinds of pitchers, but they work really hard. Both hit locations and focus on not giving up big balls and not walking people.”

Through the first 23 games of the season, Campbell has been the workhorse, throwing 80.1 innings over the course of 18 games with 13 starts. Campbell has recorded 10 wins and four losses with one save as well with an ERA of 2.78. Kendrick on the other hand has tossed 31 innings in 12 games with six starts. She has a 6-1 record to date and has the lowest ERA on the team at 2.48.

When looking toward the rest of the regular season and the postseason, Hawkins’ goal for this team is the same as it is every season, to win a state title, but with five of the seven teams in the Lady Jaguars’ region also ranked in the top 10, that is not an easy task.

“Our area and region is just brutal, we really are in a bottleneck of talent,” Hawkins said. “(But) we are always focused on a state championship. We are here to try and prepare them, but it truly comes down to them working together and doing the fundamentals correctly.”

Postseason play begins April 29, with area tournament play beginning across the state.