By Todd Wills
The Navarro Lady Bulldogs’ softball team will begin the season ranked No. 15 in the nation. They’ll host the Region XIV Tournament for the first time in four years.
The Lady Bulldogs return two top sophomore pitchers and the best base stealer in junior college softball.
So naturally with that much top-tier talent, and a slew of promising freshmen on campus, Lady Bulldogs coach Jessica Karenke is sweating the details. On paper, this could be her most talented team since the 2005 regional champions.
That’s why Navarro opened practice Thursday working on its bunt defense.
“We want to do the little things right,” Karenke said. “We have so much talent when you look at the big picture. The small things will get us to where we need to be.”
Navarro’s goal is to be playing its best softball when it hosts the regional tournament in early May. The two teams that play in the regional final will advance to the national tournament in St. George, Utah.
That’s where the Lady Bulldogs want to be, seeing other programs at Navarro win national titles (football, baseball, cheerleading) and advancing to the national tournament (men’s basketball 3 of the last 4 years).
“It looks like we’re due,” sophomore outfielder Jessica Marshburn said. “We’ve been waiting for our moment.”
Marshburn, from Van, will ignite Navarro’s offense. She had 89 stolen bases in 95 attempts last year to lead all of college softball. She won the Golden Shoe Award, Navarro’s second player to do that (Erica Wolver of Corsicana did it in 2010).
Marshburn said her personal goal is to top her total from last season. “My goal is 100,” she said.
Marshburn combines great speed with being a very good baserunner.
“She’s just a good basestealer,” Karenke said. “She knows how to time it. We’re fast as a team.”
Navarro is deep on the mound. Sophomores Kaycee Spears and Brianna Bryant combined for a 19-14 record last season with 160 strikeouts. Spears had a 2.19 ERA. Bryant had a 2.14 ERA.
Bryant can bring it. Spears started the 2012 season trying to overpower opposing hitters, but settled in on how to use her speed and movement.
“I learned how to adapt with what I have with speed and movement,” Spears said.
Bryant said the sophomores are focused on showing the freshmen how to play the right way.
The little things will have them ready for the regional tournament, when they’ll have homefield advantage on their side against No. 2 Blinn and the other top teams in the state.
“We can’t wait to get teams on our own field,” Bryant said. “On our dirt. In front of our families and our fans. We’re looking forward to the support.”
Coach: Jessica Karenke
2012 Record: 35-20
Preseason Ranking: No. 15 in NJCAA Poll
Returning Players: OF Jessica Marshburn, OF Daniele Nash, INF McKayla Mayfield, INF Corinne Brassell, OF Mason Grubbss, INF Jordyn Briscoe, P/INF Kaycee Spears, P Brianna Bryant.
Notable: Navarro has its one-two punch back on the mound. Kaycee Spears was 12-10 with a 2.19 ERA and two saves. She had 108 strikeouts in 156 2/3 innings. Brianna Bryant was 7-4 with a 2.14 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings ... Marshburn is back to headline the outfield. She batted .417 with 51 runs and 30 RBIs. She was the 2012 Golden Shoe Award winner after stealing 89 bases, tops in college softball. She was first-team All-Conference and All-Region and third-team All-American ... Navarro will host the Region XIV Tournament on May 2-4
Lady Bulldogs Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Jan. 30 at Hill 1p.m. (DH)
Feb. 1-2 at Galveston Tourn. TBA
Feb. 4 Hill 1 p.m. (DH)
Feb. 6 Angelina 1 p.m. (DH)
Feb. 9-10 at Blinn Round-Robin TBA
Feb. 13 at Ranger 1 p.m. (DH)
Feb. 16 at San Jac Round-Robin TBA
Feb. 18 at Cisco 1 p.m. (DH)
Feb. 22-23 at Temple Tourn. TBA
Mar. 1-3 at Longview Round-Robin TBA
Mar. 9 Bossier Parish* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 14 at Trinity Valley* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 16 at Northeast* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 23 Kilgore* 1 p.m. (DH)
Mar. 27 at Paris* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 3 at Bossier Parish* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 6 at Northeast* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 8 at Angelina 3 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 12 Paris* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 19 at Kilgore* 1 p.m. (DH)
Apr. 20 Trinity Valley* 1 p.m. (DH)
May 2-4 Region VIX Tourn.# TBA
May 16-18 %NJCAA National Tourn. TBA
*Denotes conference game
#Region XIV Tournament will be played in Corsicana
%NJCAA National Tournament will be played in St. George, Utah