By Rubin E. Grant
More than a month and a half into the 2022 high school softball season, Spain Park coach C.J. Urse Hawkins is not quite sure what to make of her team.
That’s not to say that the Jaguars have been bad. They went into their Senior Night game Monday against Sumiton Christian with a 22-5-2 record.
But Urse Hawkins, who has more than 950 victories in her coaching career, is uncertain about whether she has a team capable of making a deep run in the postseason, which begins April 30.
“Coming into the season I thought we had a good foundation, even though we were replacing four starters,” Urse Hawkins said. “I like our group. We have some good chemistry, a group that sacrifices for each other.
“With the pitching depth we have, I felt we could reload, but our lineup falls off after our first five hitters. So we’re not a juggernaut.”
The Jags had to replace All-American Annabelle Widra, who played six seasons as a pitcher and shortstop. She’s now at Michigan.
Also gone is outfielder Lydia Coleman, who is at Penn State, and slugging first baseman Chloe Brittain.
Spain Park did return Katie Flannery, a junior shortstop who has already committed to Oregon.
“She’s a strong player and versatile,” Urse Hawkins said. “She can play anywhere and she has a lot of leadership skills, too.”
Flannery entered this week with a robust .459 batting average, while leading the team in hits (39), runs (29), RBI (30) and doubles (8). She also had six home runs and a .764 slugging percentage to go along with a .511 on-base percentage.
Slugging sophomore catcher Maggie Daniel also returned. She was leading the team with 10 home runs and was tied with Flannery for the team lead in RBI with 30. She also had seven doubles, a .368 batting average, a .911 slugging percentage and a .500 on-base percentage.
“She’s got power,” Urse Hawkins said. “She’s big and strong. She will have a chance to break the school home run record before she’s finished.”
Sophomore outfielder Emma Hawkins, freshman second baseman Charlee Bennett and senior outfielder Emma Jolley also have been productive at the plate.
Hawkins, the daughter of the coach, was batting .365 with a .473 on-base percentage, 26 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. Bennett was leading the team with 17 stolen bases and had four home runs and 22 RBI. Jolley, one of five seniors on the team, was batting .379 with 12 stolen bases, 28 runs scored and seven doubles. She signed with Birmingham-Southern College in February.
The other seniors are Caroline Whisenhunt, Katherine Brown, Kyndal Heaton and Morgan Jolley, who is Emma Jolley’s twin sister.
Whisenhunt (3-0), who transferred from Hoover, and Brown (6-1) are both pitchers, but the ace of the staff is junior Ella Reed. She fashioned a 13-2 record as a sophomore last year and has a 13-4 record this season with a 1.95 earned-run average and 128 strikeouts in 97 innings pitched.
“She does a great job,” Urse Hawkins said. “She’s got movement on her pitches and speed and has a different assortment of pitches.”
The Jags compete in Class 7A, Area 6, also with defending state champion Hewitt-Trussville, Vestavia Hills and Oak Mountain. Spain Park was 1-1 in the area heading into their game Tuesday at Hewitt, which is ranked No. 18 nationally by MaxPreps.
“I think this is the toughest area in the state, without a doubt,” Urse Hawkins said. “Hewitt is the favorite to win area, but I feel like anything can happen and any of the four teams can advance to the playoffs.
“I feel like we have a chance, but we have to stay healthy and manage the uncontrollable things.”