ROACHDALE -- Last season undoubtedly was a frustrating one for the North Putnam Cougars. They saw their share of games dropped by a mere run or two and witnessed their freshman pitcher make her mark on the mound.
Now this season is simply going to be a matter of putting things together and watch as those near misses turn into a winning record.
"I think we're going to be pretty solid again," Cougar head coach Jim Brothers said. "We had two spots to fill with some seniors graduating and we have some kids ready to step in and take those spots. We've had a lot of competition for spots and that's good any time you can get that. We have some players that can move around and play different spots, so that's going to be a good thing for us."
Returning to the mound for the Cougars is sophomore Taylor Judy. As a freshman, Judy recorded an impressive amount of strikeouts, but this season her coach is looking for her to make the leap and mature into a more all-around threat.
"Taylor Judy will be back on the mound her sophomore year," Brothers assured. "She had 228 strikeouts last year as a freshman and I'm hoping she can be even stronger even more than she was last year. That first year, no matter how much you pitch as a freshman, they're out there and handling adversity, whether it's an umpire's call or a freak play happens in a game, that composure and mental toughness gets better and better as you get older.
"I don't know if the strikeouts will be as high, but I think just her command of the game and things like that, I really look to be a big addition this year," he added.
Strikeouts are nice, but what the Cougars lacked the most of last season was run production. The Cougar's saw multiple games fall into the lost column by just a few runs. Brothers and his Cougar squad have a plan.
"One thing we have to do is score more runs this year. Be smarter on the bases and get better jumps and things like that. Just come up and get a critical hit when we need it," he said. "We never put innings in last year where we would get two or three hits in a row. We'd get a runner on and then get a couple outs and then have to try to get something going with two outs.
"So if we can get something going with less than two outs, move some runners up with their outs and push a couple more runs across the plate in a game and then I think we'll be a lot better. Last year, it seemed like a race to one or two runs and half the time we didn't get there first and when we did, we didn't hold it. I think we'll be better offensively," Brothers added.
North Putnam will have three seniors leading the way this season. Logan Doyle and Leah Crosby return from last year's squad. Brothers mentioned he thought it would be nice to have a left-handed first baseman and with the addition of senior Taylor Alles; he's getting what he wants.
The Cougars had their share of fielding miscues, but Brothers believes that this season will be different.
"I think another big change from last is that this year I think we'll be a lot better defensively," Brothers said. "We booted a lot of balls last year, partly because youth, inexperience and when you have someone who strikes out 228 batters, you're not always on your toes and alert. I think we'll be a good solid team and I think people will have to play well to beat us.
"Hopefully we won't do anything to beat ourselves and we did that last year," he added.
A staple of North Putnam squads in recent years is speed. On the bases or in the field, the Cougars possesesed more than average speed and this year they will harness it and utilize it more. But at this stage of the season, it's difficult to know where they stand.
"It's hard to do when we're playing ourselves. There are things we can do to increase, maybe not how fast we are, but our reaction and how aggressive we are in getting our jumps and things like that. There's only so much we can do to increase our foot speed, but there are some things we can do to play faster and that's what we're going to try to do," Brother commented.
Although Brothers likes where his team is currently, he knows that it will change over the course of the season. He's hoping that all those little changes added on to one satisfying result.
"I think for us it's going to be a yearlong progression to where at sectional, we want to be playing our best softball," Brother said. "We're going to work on things as the year goes on, like hitting behind runners and things like that. Just moving people up and as we get better at that, I think you'll see a better softball team."
North Putnam opens their season April 6 at Greencastle, starting at 5 p.m.