Pelham looks to make bigger push in playoffs this season with senior leadership

Published 5:38 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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By TYLER RALEY | Special to the Reporter

The Pelham Panthers are looking to make an even farther run into the postseason after their performance in 2023, and the team feels like they have the experience to do just that.

Following a year in which it ended the year 18-18 and was eliminated in the regionals, Raechael McClure and her players have focused a lot on coming together as a team, knowing it will help during the season.

“We have just really focused this fall on unity and coming together,” McClure said. “We’ve had a few team bonding events. We had an overnight trip where we did the zip-lining and team games. So they just learned a little bit more about each other, and I think as a result I see a lot of them doing things going into the preseason together. They actually want to hang out and do stuff together. Whether it’s softball related or not, they’re doing that, and I think that’s just going to be really big for us.”

That mindset has spread across the entire team, and they all hope to make great progress throughout the duration of the season. The end goal is to ultimately be able to go out on top, but also to be very competitive.

With the veterans that are on this squad, the belief is strong that they now have what it takes to make that push past regionals and into the state tournament.

“We did enough to advance [last year], but I don’t think we did the best that we were capable of doing,” McClure said. “Now that we have that experience, I think, especially with our returners, we build on that, try to have some success at the region to hopefully have a way to make it to the state tournament.”

Most of that belief stems from the depth that the Panthers are carrying into this season. That aspect of Pelham’s team stems not only from the number of players that McClure has fielded on her team, but also from the veterans who step up when their name is called.

She specifically has really high praise of what her seniors have done over the course of their careers, and looks for them to make a big impact come game time.

“I do want to speak highly of all three of my seniors – Jessica Gray, Jordan Howard and McKenzie Little,” McClure said. “They have done whatever is asked of them as far as maybe playing a position they’re not as comfortable or doing more than they thought they would have to do or coming in tight situations. They really know how I expect things to go.”

That depth, though, is present for all of the aspects of Pelham’s team this year, and McClure understands that if her team wants to make a big run in 2024, everyone is going to have to step up when needed, especially the younger players.

Those that are still fresh to the program have learned a lot from the seniors as the preseason has gone on, which has, and will continue to benefit the team in the long run.

“[The seniors] all have different personalities as well,” McClure said. “It’s very unique because the underclassmen know which senior to reach out to for this particular strength that they have. That’s really helpful.”

Those different strengths are what the Panthers hope will push them towards success, especially in the area games. That is a task that they will have to work hard for though, and McClure understands the challenge of that in any season.

“You can’t take anybody lightly,” McClure said. “I know with the history of Helena, we have not had as much success in the win column, although we have had good moments. I’m hoping their mindset going into Briarwood and Helena is, ‘We can compete with them.’ I think we’ve got to be able to rehearse that and practice that if we want to even give ourselves a chance.”

For the seniors, they all know that they will continue to fight all the way through the end of the season and push themselves to improve. That philosophy is clear to McClure, and she hopes that’s what they look back on when they end their Pelham careers.

“They all want to finish the season on a high note,” McClure said. “They’re going to do whatever it takes. We’ve had multiple conversations about things we can do in the season and throughout the season just to kind of keep everybody on the same page and to keep things going. I do feel like they will live up to the hype of being a senior because sometimes you have those situations where it may not be ideal, but it really is with these three.”

McClure hopes that her team continues to work hard under their leadership, because she believes that the dedication will help the girls in building off of what last year’s success brought.

The Panthers will have the opportunity to showcase their skills and leadership when they take the field for their season opener on Feb. 22 at Homewood.