The Commerce Lady Tigers will open up the 2008 softball season on Friday, as they take part in the Lanier Point Tournament in Gainesville.

But when they hit the field at 6:30 p.m., it will be a vastly different team from the last few seasons.

That’s because eight seniors from the 2007 lineup graduated a few months ago, leaving several holes to fill.

Those who graduated included Kaylin Canup, Amber Haggard, starting pitcher Lisa Minish, Ann Cutler, Megan Lord, Terra Hancock, Ellie Hardigree and team manager Charity Keisler.

Many of those seniors were four-year starters, and had been around since the inception of the program.

However, coach Pam Canup says, her team is ready to step up to the challenges ahead of them.

“We have four seniors, and several of the juniors are stepping up into leadership roles and working to help some of the younger players,” Canup said. “We’ve accomplished some things we wanted to accomplish in the pre-season. We’re still deciding who the backup pitcher will be. There’s nothing set in stone right now.”

Brooklynn Stinchcomb will move up to ace in the pitching rotation. Junior Jessie Flint is recovering from a knee injury, and it’s not clear when she will return. That means senior C.J. Wilkes will probably move to the outfield, while Rebekah Andrews moves to third.

“For the most part, everybody will be starting in a new position,” Canup said. “We’re relatively young in every position, but the girls seem to be working hard. I think we’re about ready to play someone else. We’re tired of playing each other. We’re ready to see where we are.”

The team has four seniors, including Wilkes, Callie Adams, Andrews and Ashley Lord. Canup says despite the loss of so many players from last year, her team is not using that as an excuse.

“A lot of girls are stepping up and encouraging the others to step up,” she said. “The attitude has been ‘now it’s my time, and I’m ready to go.’ I’m proud of that.

“They are looking forward to the challenge of stepping in and doing what they have to do to be successful.”

The way the Lady Tigers’ season starts will help the team gauge what it needs to do to achieve that success. Commerce will play several games before getting to its first region match-up Sept. 4. Following a scrimmage with Hart County this week, the team will use the tournament to see where they stand, then use games against Jefferson, Banks County and during the Commerce Invitational to prepare for their region opener against Social Circle at home next month.

“We’ll try some different combinations,” Canup said. “I have a good idea of who the first person is, but you’ve got to have a backup. I’m trying to find out who those back-ups could be. We’re just trying to prepare for any possibility during the season.”

That includes the uncertainty of when Flint will return to the field, as her injured knee continues to heal.

“We want her to come back, but we don’t want her to come back too early,” Canup said.

All in all, Canup said, her team is very positive as it prepares to begin the season.

“They’re wanting to play, and they’re ready for the challenge.”

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