The Hannibal softball team hopes the third time is the charm for winning the district championship this season.
Lauran Haye took the end of last season personally.
The Hannibal left fielder replayed the final play of the Class 3 district championship on repeat in her head, re-feeling the bitter emotions from the 1-0 loss in eight innings.
Mexico lifted a two-out walk-off double in Hayes' direction and scored the winning run from second base.
“Especially since the ball that lost the game was right down the left-field line but just hit me hard, I want to make certain this year that I do everything I can to stop every ball I can no matter where it's hit,” Haye said.
Haye returns for her senior season this fall and looks to lead the Lady Pirates to the next level under first-year head coach Andrew Pollard, who takes over for Kendra Murphy.
Hannibal has played in and lost the past two district title games and finished 14-12 a year ago.
“Now that we have that taste, we're ready to get over that hump,” Pollard said. “They've seen what this team has done the past couple years, and they're tired of falling short and I am too. The girls see that and know the district title can be in the near future.”
Due to realignment, Hannibal will no longer have to fend off North Central Missouri Conference rivals Mexico and Fulton to advance through districts.
The Lady Pirates are in a different district this year with St. Dominic, Warrenton, Winfield and Wright City.
Josie Zeiger returns as the top hitter for Hannibal after driving in a team-high 31 runs while batting .353 with 11 extra-base hits. Zeiger will be stationed at second base.
Haye is projected as the No. 3 hitter for the Lady Pirates, one spot ahead of Zeiger in the lineup. Haye hit nearly .300 last season and drove in 17 runs.
Sydney Hart and Avery Lake offer speed to catalyze the offense. Hart takes over as the everyday center fielder as a sophomore, while Lake, a junior, will start at shortstop.
Hart will be sandwiched between a pair of veterans on defense — Haye in left field and senior Kennedy Schmohe patrolling right.
“We're going to be pretty good in the outfield,” Schmohe said. “Sydney can cover lots of ground, and Lauran is solid in left. We have lots of confidence.”
Taylor Simms will play third base for Hannibal after hitting .287 with 21 runs and 16 RBIs.
Sophomore Maggie Woodside and freshman Emilee Wilson are expected to split a timeshare at first base.
Senior Hailey Whittaker will be the everyday catcher.
“'Whit' is going to be the Yadi (Molina) of our team,” Pollard said. “She's going to take on the workload. She likes that and wants that. She's earned that spot and we have a lot of respect for her work ethic.”
Taylor Wilson takes over as the No. 1 starter in the circle for her senior season. Wilson went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA last year mainly in a backup role.
“I've pitched for years, and it's finally my time to shine,” Wilson said. “I feel really comfortable coming in with the girls behind me. I'm ready and want to win.”
Wilson has the support from the team behind her.
“I have a lot of confidence in Taylor,” Zeiger said. “She did well last year, and I expect the same this year.”
Kylie McAfee is expected to contribute offensively in her freshman year as a designated player, with freshman Sadie Stine and sophomore Adrya Nichelson primed to fill in where needed.
Hannibal is scheduled to open the season this weekend at the Troy Tournament.
Coming close to the NCMC and district titles last year motivates the Lady Pirates.
“It makes us want to work even harder,” Whittaker said.