EMCC softball team set for 2023 season-opening tournament action in Alabama

Published 2:54 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

SCOOBA – The East Mississippi Community College softball team is poised to enter the 2023 season this weekend (Jan. 27-28) in Albertville, Alabama with renewed energy and under new leadership.


With interim head softball coach Mackenzie Byrd having taken over EMCC’s head coaching duties this semester after former head coach Whitney Hawkins took a position on the University of North Alabama softball coaching staff, the Lions will play through the upcoming season with a different head coach for the third straight year.

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Byrd’s promotion to EMCC’s head coach position provides stability for the program after serving as Hawkins’ assistant coach last season. Byrd, a product of Leakesville’s Greene County High School, played collegiate softball as a middle infielder at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Alabama State University.


Byrd and her players are eager to get things started this weekend at the Sand Mountain Classic, hosted by Snead State Community College at Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheater. EMCC is scheduled to take on Northwest-Shoals CC and Calhoun CC during Friday action slated for 12:30 and 5:30 p.m., respectively. On Saturday, the Lions are set to meet Snead State CC and Columbia State CC at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.


“This is the group of players I would want to begin any season with as a head coach. They’re a lot of fun and have a lot of energy,” Byrd said. “They’ve also handled the coaching transition very well.”


After the Lions forged through last season short on numbers while competing in the challenging MACCC, Byrd went back to work on the recruiting trail. The results of that hard work and perseverance can be seen up and down this year’s roster. Talented incoming freshmen and a handful of impact transfers have joined forces with a few returning starters from a year ago to form a cohesive unit who collectively take pride in their winning attitude and competitive drive.


As with most college softball teams at any level of competition, the conversation begins with the prospects of the Lions’ pitching staff. Laken Firth (Grand Bay, AL) returns to the circle after leading EMCC’s pitchers with seven victories a year ago. Incoming freshmen Carys Goodwin (Corinth) and Lana Atkins (Millport, AL) also figure to throw plenty of innings this season.


“Our pitchers are responding great to Coach Crutch,” Byrd noted about first-year EMCC assistant softball coach Kaeleigh Crutchfield, who pitched for the University of West Alabama the past two years.


Along with having their leading pitcher back from last season, the Lions also return their top hitter in first baseman Celeste Study. The St. Martin High School product led EMCC a year ago in batting average (.387), slugging percentage (.613), hits (48), doubles (16), home runs (4), and runs batted in (37).


Middle infielder Carley Martin (Heritage Academy) also returns this season for the Lions.


The Lions look to also benefit from the transfer route with four newcomers switching uniforms this season. Outfielder Sidney Argo (Ewing, KY) and catcher Devyn DeBardelaben (Montgomery, AL) came over from Shelton State, while outfielder Ki’arah Byrd (Petal) made the move from Coahoma. An additional catcher, Magen Caro, from Bevill State by way of the Louisiana prep ranks, joined the Lions during the semester break.


“I see us being a big hitting team this season. We also have a lot more speed on the bases this year,” Byrd added.


Other incoming in-state freshmen expected to compete for playing time this season include outfielders Brooke Knoop (Caledonia), Victoria Irby (West Lauderdale HS), Avery Luke (Kemper Academy), Tristin Price (Smithfield), and Kayla Watson (Northeast Lauderdale HS). Infielders Anna Claire Brewer (Enterprise), Layla Roper (New Site HS) and Madalyn Dvorak (Caledonia), along with valuable utility player Kelsey Odom (Laurel), are all also in the mix for game action.


“This team has great chemistry, and I’m very excited to hit the ground running this weekend,” Byrd continued.


The EMCC Lions look to make their 2023 home softball debut on Friday, Feb. 3, by playing host to Marion Military Institute in a scheduled 2 p.m. doubleheader at the EMCC Softball Field on the Scooba campus.