No. 17 Pearl River boasts experienced ’22 roster
Published 3:01 pm Monday, January 31, 2022
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — With the 2022 Pearl River softball season just three days away, the Wildcats are ready to build on the successes of the 2021 season. The difference heading into this season is the experience that Pearl River possesses compared to previous rosters.
“It’s wonderful to have as many returners as we do. Practice day one was much easier this season than in the past seasons,” said head coach Christie Meeks, who’s entering her third year at the helm of the program. “We had 14 freshmen last year, this time they’re our returners. I expect this team to conduct themselves like they are experienced.
“They now know what conference is going to be like and they know the importance of every game. Every game matters and every game counts, especially in conference play. Each team in our conference is extremely tough and hard to beat. You have to be on your toes and make sure you’re focused every game. That’s my expectations for this team, to show their experience in this league.”
Last season was Meeks’ first full season as head coach due to the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, so she feels that she and her coaching staff learned a lot last year.
“Growth is really important. I believe that last year and coming into this year we have learned what kind of players it takes to get to where you need to be,” she said. “Working hard with talent is going to get you where you need to be.
“Recruiting is something that we have really invested in. Not just recruiting great talent but recruiting great people. We believe that’s something we have with this team.”
This year the Wildcats will have something that Meeks says she has never had on any team that she has coached: a team captain. Holding down the captaincy in 2022 will be sophomore Emily Rigney (Waynesboro; Wayne County).
“Emily embodies five different components that we require of our leaders,” Meek said. “We believe that Emily comes every day, works Hard on her performance, puts the team first, communicates with her teammates and coaches, embodies our philosophy, and does the work in the classroom. Emily has done a good job of setting that standard and leading this team.”
Meeks feels that the Wildcats will be led by their pitching and ability to run the bases.
“I believe that we are strong in the circle and behind the plate,” she said. “That’s two areas that we have pushed hard, especially with me being a pitching coach and having Coach (Hannah) Sparks who played at the highest level as a catcher. We believe that we have good speed and can run the bases.
“It helps to have a former All-American on your staff in Coach (Simone) McKinney who is coaching the bases. Those are definitely three areas that we have pushed and feel we are strong in. I think that’s what will lead us.”
IN THE FIELD
The lineup card for the Wildcats may look different from day-to-day as the Wildcats have a lot of depth at each position.
In 2021, Rethmeyer hit .207 with three homers, four doubles and 16 RBIs, but Meeks expects Aunie to take a leap at the plate this year.
“We really expect a big jump with the stick for Aunie,” Meeks said. “She is small but she has a lot of power. Not only with her bat, but Aunie brings a demeanor to the team that keeps things light. She’s demanding because she’s a catcher, but she demands in a way that everyone wants to follow. We think we will also get great leadership out of her.”
Nance will be a valuable member of the Wildcat lineup and will see time both at catcher and in the outfield.
“Dallyn plays with a lot of passion for the game,” Meeks said. “She’s precise with what she does. She brings a little bit of a different light into things; she knowsthe game. I expect Dallyn to step into a great leadership role when she’s on the field and take our team to another level whether she’s behind the plate or in the outfield.”
First base may be one of the most fluid positions in the lineup as the Wildcats have four players who will see time at that corner of the infield, including sophomores Cassady Bradford (Saucier; West Harrison), Erin Daughtery (Vancleave) and Keigan Pearson (Carriere; Pearl River Central) as well as newcomer and two-sport athlete Julianah Overstreet(Vancleave).
The middle infield will have some familiarity as Taelor York (Choctaw; Clinton Christian Academy) returns at shortstop and Hannah Miller (Kokomo; West Marion) will takeover second base. Also spending time at second base will be Madi Waters (Laurel; West Jones).
In 2021, York was named All-MACCC Honorable Mention after hitting .383 with eight doubles, three triples and 13 RBIs. She also tied for the team lead with 10 stolen bases. Meeks expects York to have another big year for the Wildcats in 2022.
“Rae has come back with a lot of passion,” she said. “She has really matured over the fall. She’s coming back with experience. She knows what it’s going to take. It’s awesome to have a slapper in a role of a leadoff batter. We expect her to know her role a little bit more in-depth. Coach (Simone) McKinney has really invested in her as a leadoff hitter to help her understand that it doesn’t have to be pretty it just needs to be on-base percentage.”
Miller filled a variety of roles in 2021, seeing time at designated player and in the infield. In 33 games, she hit .270 with five doubles, three triples, one homer and six stolen bases.
“Hannah has a lot of speed at second base. She gives us that range,” Meeks said. “She can cover steals and bunts with ease. She’s got great reaction in the field and the speed to get to where she needs to be on time. That’s a huge positive of having her at second base. She’s a very composed and gritty player
“Jena is going to be a big stick at the plate,” Meeks said. “Coming in as a freshman and a third baseman is tough, however, I know she’s going to handle that really well. She’s going to help us score a lot of runs.”
The outfield could see several different combinations in each game.
Seeing time in left field will be Rigney and Nance. Centerfield will be led by Payton Lee (Picayune; Pearl River Central) and Rigney. Right field will feature Nance, Cassidy Cartwright (Poplarville), Beth
The designated player position is another one that several Wildcats will slot into. Among those who could take that spot are Daughtery, Bradford, Pearson, Overstreet, Hunter or Pacheco.
Additionally, freshman Kallie Hunt (Picayune) will maintain a utility role with the Wildcats and will be a threat on the basepaths.
IN THE CIRCLE
Pearl River’s pitchers have a chance to really impact the game in the 2022 season.
Returning to lead the rotation is First Team All-MACCC selection Hannah Embry (Vicksburg; Porters Chapel Academy). In 2021, Embry racked up 118 1/3 innings pitched with a 3.19 ERA. She tallied 143 strikeouts which was good enough for 20th in the NJCAA.
“We expect to see Hannah be herself again,” Meeks said. “We think she can dominate on the mound, get ground balls, get pop-ups and spin the ball well. We think she can continue to use her rise ball to get the strikeouts. Coming back as a sophomore she has a great opportunity to do big things.
“We expect her to not set her standard as what she did last year, but to set a new higher standard for herself.”
Also returning for the Wildcats is Madelyn Burch (Franklinton, La.; Bowling Green) who tallied a 7-1 record and 1.93 ERA last season, despite battling injury for much of the year.
Another impactful arm for the Wildcats will be Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Brinson Anne Rogers (Statesboro, Ga.)
“It’s awesome to build relationships with your players and I think that’s something we’ve been able to do with Brinson,” Meeks said. “We’ve been able to get her back on track with what her goal is and what our goals are for her. She turns into a bulldog when she’s on the mound. I can’t wait to see her flip that switch.”
Prior to signing with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Rogers was ranked the No. 60 high school prospect in the nation by FloSoftball and Extra Innings Softball.
Freshman Makaya Necaise (Kiln; Hancock) also looks to factor into the pitching.
Pearl River will open the 2022 season ranked as the No. 17 team in the NJCAA Division II preseason rankings.
Pearl River gets the season started Feb. 3 with a 2 p.m. doubleheader against Marion Military. Due to ongoing construction, the games have been moved to William Carey. The doubleheader is expected to be livestreamed at team1sports.com/
Once the Wildcats return home, all games at Wildcat Stadium will once again be livestreamed at PRCCMedia.com.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at PRCCAthletics.com/tickets.