BY WIL CREWS
The Opelika varsity softball team began its 2023 season in dramatic fashion.
The Lady Bulldogs defeated Beauregard, 5-4, after a walk-off single by senior McKay Yountz drove in the winning run in the final inning.
“I think everybody pretty much walked away happy,” said head coach Jessica Thornton. “We got our first-game jitters out and still came away with the win. So, what more could you ask for?”
Opelika followed up its season-opening win with two more victories — against Benjamin Russell and Dadeville — and a loss against Holtville in a tournament last weekend.
Thornton, in her second year at the helm of the OHS softball program, leads the Lady Bulldogs into their first season in the Alabama High School Sports Association’s (AHSAA) highest classification: 7A.
The move to 7A presents a challenge for the Lady Bulldogs — who were crowned regular season and postseason area champions in class 6A last season. However, Opelika’s senior-laden roster is going to be up for the challenge, according to Thornton.
“We are pretty senior heavy; they are all pretty much starters,” she said. ‘So, we are excited about the experience that we have on the field. I think the best part is that all six seniors lead in their own way.”
Opelika has six seniors on its roster in 2023, while two freshmen and a bunch of sophomores and juniors round of the squad. No one player has been singled out more than Yountz, however, as she has played in large role in the success of Opelika softball over the previous four years.
“McKay has been an integral part throughout her four years,” Thornton said. “She provides some stability in the fact that you know she is going to show up and show out every day to the best of her ability. She is not afraid to walk away and say that wasn’t her best day, but know that she gave it her all.”
Regarding Thornton, the head coach claims to have learned to not “sweat the small stuff as much,” after her experience leading the Lady Bulldogs last season. According to her, every team walks a fine line between having fun and getting the job done.
“[I am going] to really try and focus on letting the girls have some fun while also holding a standard,” she said. “I mean I think it is just the ability to stay focused while also being able to have fun is a very fine line that everybody has to learn. We are still working on that but it has definitely come a long way since last year.”
According to Thornton, it is still too early in the season to accurately identify this version of Opelika softball’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We are still trying to figure out what our identity is and what we need to focus a little bit more on,” she said. “I’m excited to highlight some of those things.”
To this point in the season, Thornton is keeping the team’s goals and ambitions close to her chest. However, the head coach did say she believes Opelika softball can accomplish great things in 2023.
“The sky is the limit for us this year,” Thornton said. “We set some specific goals but I would like to keep those in house. We know what we want and we are going to do everything we can to get it.”