By JD McCarthy
for the Opelika Observer
After an abrupt end to the season a year ago, the Opelika Lady Bulldogs are eager to get back on the diamond.
Opelika will open its softball season with a game at Central on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. CST before competing in the Tallassee Tournament on Friday and Saturday.
The Lady Bulldogs are a young team that missed out on game experience last year, according to Head Coach Randy Belyeu. With the team being sophomore-heavy and only playing a handful of games last year, many of them are closer in experience to freshmen than seniors and are still adjusting to the pitching.
In most middle school softball programs, talented pitchers will be elevated to the high school teams, which lowers the level of pitching the girls compete against. This lack of experience caused Belyeu to schedule some tough opponents to start the year to help test his team.
“We frontloaded the schedule and will ease off towards the end to get ready for the Area Tournament,” he said.
While his team may be young, Belyeu thinks they are one of the hardest-working teams he has ever had in his coaching career.
“The way they listen to the coaches and adapt after every drill is amazing,” he said.
That ability to adapt has come in crucial for their off-season workouts, which had to be changed due to the coronavirus.
Due to the size of their weight room, they were unable to use it over the off season because if one person tested positive, they would all have had to quarantine. Pitching and hitting were done in groups, and when one group was finished, they were sent home, instead of staying and watching or helping. Belyeu also purchased neck gaiters for his entire team for practice and the coming games.
Once his team takes the field, Belyeu is really only concerned about his catchers and batters during the game but thinks the rest of the girls should be safe during the games because of the space between them on the field.
As protection against any girls being quarantined and missing games, Belyue is emphasizing versatility and the ability to play multiple positions. This will make players like K.D. Lee and Libby Gaberlavage important if some of the girls do miss time, as Lee can play several positions and Gaberlavage can play every position.
Belyeu expects to rely on McKay Yountz, Daysia Jones, Sanai Stringer and Ava Parker as his pitchers for the season, which he views as a strength of this team.
Offensively, the Lady Bulldogs have a deep lineup, and he has been particularly impressed by Jameah Thomas and Parker.
As if there were not enough change going on, the Lady Bulldogs will be competing in a new region this year, battling against Eufaula, Russell County and Valley for the 6A Area 4 crown, none of whom they played last year.
“These girls have a great attitude and put in the work despite the challenges we have faced,” Belyeu said.
Whether fans can attend a game will depend on where that game is. Fans are welcome to attend home games but must buy tickets online at GoFan (gofan.co/app/school/AL11750), wear face coverings and maintain social distancing.
Road games may be harder to attend as the rules are left to the home school and will depend on how much space they have.
Fans who are unable to attend can follow along on GameChanger (gc.com/team-5f7f733ab1bf16 8688000001) and receive in-game updates free of charge. It also includes their stats, schedule and a roster.