With eight consecutive state playoff appearances under its belt, the Winder-Barrow softball team is a postseason regular, though most of those stays have been short. Since reaching the Elite Eight in Columbus in 2013, the Bulldoggs have been ousted in the first round seven straight years, including a sweep at the hands of Carrollton last year.
But second-year head coach Jordan Najafi is hopeful that the Bulldoggs, with a more experienced team and pitching staff, are in position to break that streak this season.
“We only had three players graduate, and we have a bunch of seasoned veterans coming back,” said Najafi, whose team will open its regular season 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, at Jefferson. “We’ve got three seniors again this year, a lot of juniors and a sophomore class that got a lot of varsity innings last year. They’ve all worked hard all summer and are ready to go.”
Offense and team speed were strengths last year for the Bulldoggs, who finished 10-15 against a competitive schedule, and they are set to return plenty of both this fall. Junior center fielder Dayton Power and junior shortstop Abby Polk, a pair of all-region performers, are back atop the lineup, and Najafi said both lefties have added more power capability to go along with their slapping prowess and speed on the base paths.
Power was a dominant force last year, hitting .494 with 18 RBIs and stealing 19 bases, while Polk hit .394 and swiped nine bags. Senior second baseman Alyssa Bond (.328 average, 9 steals) also provides a solid bat and speed while forming a strong defensive tandem with Polk up the middle. Senior Kendal Miller, who hit .352 last year, will be another returning bat in the middle of the Winder-Barrow lineup and will split most of the catching duties with junior Marissa Metz, who also projects to be a lineup regular along with junior Ashlyn Christy. Najafi said freshman utility player Alexis Edmondson headlines the group of newcomers and will likely contribute right away.
Winder-Barrow is seeking its most improvement in the pitching circle, where the team has been set back in recent years with untimely injuries and some inconsistency. Sophomores Rylie Beddingfield and Emily Hall and junior Alyssa Logston are likely to log the majority of the innings this year with Hall aiming to stay healthy after an injury sidelined her for a chunk of the 2020 campaign.
“We’ve got a true pitching staff this year,” Najafi said, noting that the Bulldoggs have eight arms in the program this year. “That’s something any coach can get excited about, and all three of those top ones have shown a lot of growth during the offseason and this summer.”
Growth and maturity are big themes for the Bulldoggs this year and will be key, Najafi said, if they want to improve on their third-place showing from last year in GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA and get past the first round of the playoffs.
“I think the big difference with year’s group is we’re focused a lot more on our mentality and mental toughness,” she said. “I think we’ve got all the tools physically to be a good team. If we can put it all together with our brains, that could set this group apart. We’re not necessarily a young team, and we’ve got a lot of leaders in different grades.
“We’ve just got to pull it all together.”