By Jake Gonzalez
For the Observer
The sun is shining, birds are chirping and spring is just around the corner. When spring comes, so does Opelika High School Softball.
After hiring its third coach in four years, Opelika Softball looks to get back to the playoffs following a 9-25 season a year ago. First year head coach Jessica Thornton is anxious to get the season underway.
Thornton spent the last six seasons as the assistant head coach at University of Louisiana-Monroe. She spent time under head coaches Corey Lyon and Molly Fichtner where she coached multiple Sun Belt All-Conference players.
“I shaped my philosophies from there,” Thornton said. “I was able to pick and choose the good things from them.”
The Bulldogs only have one senior on the team this season. The inexperience that Thornton possesses as a head coach will be matched by the inexperience of her team.
“My big expectation for this season is to just get everyone to grow,” Thornton said.
For Thornton, this year’s destination is the playoffs. After not making the cut last season, Thornton thinks this is the year that the Dawgs can reenter the conversation, even with just one senior on the red and black roster.
The Bulldogs will have something that is unordinary for a high school roster: a rotation that is five deep.
“It is exciting. It is unheard of on the high school level,” Thornton said.
There are not many pitching staffs that can go five deep at any level. From high school up to the professional level, a pitching staff that can do that is set up for success.
Junior McKay Yountz will lead the pitching staff for the Bulldogs but it won’t just be about her. She is going to need the help of the rest of the staff along the way.
“While Mckay is going to be in the spotlight, it is going to be a staff mentality and take all of them to get us to where we want to go,” Thornton said.
At the plate, Thornton thinks that Junior Nylen Thomas will be the one to get things started. Junior Sania Stringer will also have a bat that makes an impact for the Bulldogs. Yountz won’t just make a big impact in the circle for the Bulldogs but also at the plate.
“Mckay works both sides of the ball,” Thornton said. “She will be big for us.”
Opelika has work to do before they will get back to the playoffs; with a young roster and multiple pitching options, coach Thornton has the Bulldogs prepped for a comeback season and shot at the playoffs.
After finishing second in the region last year with 6-2 region record and one game behind Eufaula (8-1), the expectation for Thornton is to not only compete with the Tigers but to claim the region title. The Bulldogs went 1-3 against Eufaula last season.
Opelika defeated Eufaula 8-1 on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Opelika High school.