Ladycat softball preseason

Chuck Hayes
Booneville freshman Lexi Franklin makes a throw from shortstop during softball practice on Wednesday. Franklin is expected to be one of the main pitchers for the Ladycats, who open their season on Friday at a tournament in Ashdown.

The Booneville Ladycat softball team certainly has unfinished business from last season.

They had stormed to a 3-0 start, scoring 56 runs in the three games including 24 against a highly-regarded Atkins team and were ready to make a lot of noise in conference play.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the remainder of the Ladycat schedule was first postponed and then canceled entirely. They did get in some tournament play over the summer, and with the addition of some very talented freshmen, optimism runs high in the Ladycat camp.

The team was to have opened their schedule yesterday against Acorn, but with the Lady Tigers basketball team having qualified for regionals, that game and the following game at Dover, also a regional basketball qualifier, were canceled. Instead, the Ladycats will begin play on Friday at a tournament in Ashdown.

One reason for the good feelings surrounding the team is the incredible depth of pitching. The Ladycats potentially could use five pitchers this season. Brooke Turner and Emily Suttles both pitched last year with Suttles picking up all three pitching wins.

This year will also see the highly-anticipated debut of freshman Lexi Franklin in the circle. Franklin‘s travel ball résumé speaks volumes and she is expected to be a big player in Booneville’s fortunes this season. She also carries a reputation as a heavy hitter and plays several infield positions when not pitching.

Senior Brooklyn Zarlingo, who missed last season due to injury, and freshman Bella Crabtree could also pitch if needed, though Zarlingo is likely needed more in the outfield.

Pitching is not the only position where the Ladycats have quality depth; in fact it is evident all over the field. The entire infield from last season returns with the exception of graduated senior Shelby Posey, and Turner, when not in the circle, is a favorite to take over for Posey at third base.

Booneville has one of the most highly regarded shortstops in the state in Layla Byrum. The sophomore has incredible range in the field and carries a very heavy bat with her too. Byrum homered in her first career at bat last year and narrowly missed another on her second, finishing with a batting average of .667.

Fellow sophomore Sara Ulmer startled many when she batted .700 and drove in 9 runs in the abbreviated 2020 season. The sister of Arkansas State baseball player Brandon Ulmer plays second base to a high standard.

The incumbent at first base is senior Brylee Washburn, who played errorless ball at that position while batting .333. Pushing for playing time at that position is freshman Ryleigh Love.

Junior Joleigh Tate begins her third season as catcher for the Ladycats. She batted .500 in last year’s abbreviated season and whacked a home run at Perryville in her freshman year while hitting .293.

The backups in the infield are also very highly regarded. Along with Love, sophomores Teagen McMaster and Baylee Davis and freshmen Linley Garrett, Kylie Lunsford and Gracie Moore are very capable. Crabtree is also an infielder when not pitching.

The outfield has one vacancy in it because of the graduation of last year’s center fielder, Baylee Moses. Competition is keen for spots in the outfield and there are many very good players looking for starting berths.

Left field is pretty well cemented with sophomore Leigh Swint, who batted .444 last season, while Brooklyn Zarlingo (.397, 1 HR, 19 RBI in 2019), Hayley Lunsford (.375 last season) and Karmen Kent are competing for the other two positions. Senior Sarah Grissom and sophomore Megan Reid have also shown promise while freshman Alexia Sharber looks to gain experience in junior varsity games.

Coach Ronnie Denton names Hackett as one of the teams to watch as far as competition for the Ladycats in conference play. “They (Hackett) are loaded," said the coach. Paris, led by senior pitcher Jadyn Hart and sophomore infielder/outfielder Jayden Wells, certainly cannot be discounted, and Charleston, Waldron and Cedarville have a reputation for putting together very solid teams.

Denton enters his fifth year in charge of the Ladycats, and he is assisted by Chad Simpson and Bailey Bunch.