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Brown, Whitaker back in the Statesboro lineup

    Before the Statesboro softball team hit the field for its first practice of the 2013 season things were already looking up.
    Last year, a pair of talented seniors was slated to highlight the Lady Blue Devils’ roster, but knee injuries sidelined both for the season. Statesboro struggled to a last place finish in their sub-region and were eliminated in the region playoff.
    This August has brought about a mores experienced — and much healthier —group that has already notched its first win of the season.
    “It’s definitely great to have all of the girls here that we expected to be here,” SHS coach Jim Simmons said. “Having (Sarah) Brown and (Kyera) Whitaker hurt last year was a big blow from the start. Everything has certainly started off a little better this year.”
    The new season began with a dramatic, walk-off win over Portal Friday night at Mill Creek Regional Park. In the win, some of Statesboro’s veteran starters showed growth from last season and promise for the games to come.
    Katie Lee knocked in a pair of runs for the Devils while Alexis Costlow provided solid defense at shortstop and Kristen Kingery tossed a complete game.
    Statesboro has had a handful of pitching options over the last few years, but most haven’t emerged until their final year or two of service. Kingery has been an integral part of the Devils’ pitching staff since her first day as a freshman and is still going strong entering her junior year.
    “It’s always key to have that experience and familiarity with competition, especially when you’re talking about pitching,” Simmons said. “We had four seniors last year, but two didn’t play. That leaves us with a lot of familiar faces and I think that a lot of them have taken some good steps forward.”
    Statesboro still faces plenty of stiff competition in Region 3-AAAA competition. South Effingham and Wayne County figure to remain as the powers of the sub-region. But a better showing from the Devils this fall could get them past Liberty County in the sub-region and put them in much better position to make a run at the state playoffs.
    While plenty of starters and contributors return from 2012, there are still a handful of new Devils on this year’s squad. Because of its small four-team sub-region, Statesboro still has plenty of non-region games — including this month’s ‘Battle in the Boro’ for Simmons to tweak the lineup and try out different defensive arrangements.
    “We realize that there’s still a long way to go,” Simmons said. “Just in our first game, we made a few mistakes. But those were physical mistakes and not mental ones. I think that we are a mentally stronger team this year. If we can keep improving physically, hopefully we can win a few more and maybe take the next step.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.