Naylor softball returns 8 starters with high hopes

The Naylor softball team dives through a puddle on the softball field following practice on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in Naylor.

NAYLOR — Naylor softball coach Gene Deckard has informed the school and his players that he will be retiring after this school year.

The softball team responded by buying Deckard a shirt that says “Senior Season.”

“I don’t know if that meant senior citizen or senior year,” said Deckard, who turns 62 in May and has coached softball and girls basketball at Naylor for 15 years. “This group is capable of putting it together. Maybe we grew up a little bit from last year, and if we can get a few things put together, I feel like we’ve got a shot this year.”

The Eagles lost two seniors from last season’s 9-10 team that lost to Dora in the MSHSAA Class 1 District 1 semifinals. The district champion, Norwood, went on to finish fourth at state.

In the spring, Naylor beat East Carter, a Class 2 final four team, in the OFC Conference Tournament before losing in the finals to Neelyville.

“I’ve seen what Class 1 had last year,” Deckard said. “I felt like we could play with anybody in the district last year.”

The Eagles have 21 players on the roster this fall, roughly 20% of the girls in the high school.

Faith Sullivan and Alyssa Urich return as Naylor’s primary pitchers, as does catcher Aribi Pruett.

“We’re not gonna just blow it by people, but we’re working on throwing quality strikes,” Deckard said.

Naylor also started three freshmen in the outfield last season in Lyndsea Moore, Whitney Mitchell and Shae Sarabia. While all three are back, Deckard said he may switch Moore in left field with Kaylynn Johnson at second base. Ricky Spargo also returns at first base.

“I felt like we had as good of an outfield as anybody in the conference,” Deckard said. “I think we are strong enough that if we can do that, and throw consistent strikes, we are going to be alright.”

Naylor last won a district championship in 2014, finished second in Class 1 in 2012 and third in 2009.

Deckard also led the basketball team, which typically has many of the same players as the softball team, to second place finishes in 2015 and 2016, as well as a fourth place finish in 2010.

Deckard said following the season, he may drive a school bus or substitute teach. Those options, along with maintaining his small farm that has about 30 head of cattle, should occupy his time.

Logan Foster, who has been an assistant coach at Naylor for the past 10 years, is expected to take over as head coach next season.

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