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Portal Lady Panthers open 2014 season

    When it comes to fielding deep rosters, Portal Middle High School is at a disadvantage in almost every sport.
    With an enrollment hovering around the 200 mark each year, the demanding Region 3-A schedule can be very imposing. But numbers aside, the Lady Panthers – and their 13 players – are charging full speed into the softball season.
    “I like the lineup that we’re bringing into this year,” first-year head coach Travis Motes said. “We’ve got 13 players, but nine of them are returning from a good squad from last year and we think that our four new girls can contribute right away.”
    Last season, a very young Panthers’ squad outgrew some early struggles and was a tough matchup down the stretch in the regular season and in the region tournament. With a bit more experience on its side this time around, Portal is hoping to hit the ground running and take another step forward.
    The key to this season will be a strong core of girls that are still young and improving by the game.
    Junior Caitlyn Girardeau established herself as the team’s offensive leader last season and will continue to be the Panthers’ main run-producing threat this fall. A steady fixture behind the plate, Girardeau will also be tasked with calling games and taking care of the Portal pitching staff.
    The mound will be patrolled by a pair of sophomores in Keri Carter and Faith Oglesby. Both showed good command in their freshman season and the pair makes for a perfect combination as both can hold down defensive slots in the middle infield when not on the pitching rubber.
    “We have a big sophomore class that is very experienced,” Motes said. “In all, we have six sophomores who are returning. A lot of them got thrown right into the middle of things last season, so we hope that another year will make them even better.”
    Carter and Oglesby are joined by fellow 10th graders Faith Reddick and Madison Bishop, who will provide range in the outfield and speed in the batting order.
    For a school that hasn’t had much in the way of postseason success on the softball diamond, Motes is putting an emphasis on building a strong program instead of simply focusing on the season at hand.
    Over the summer, Motes called up a few promising middle schoolers to take their cuts with the varsity in hopes that the bar for success and expectations will be set higher as time goes on.
    “We were able to get in six games at the end of July to prepare and see where we stand,” Motes said. “I’m hoping that our older girls can be mentors to the girls that are coming up. It’s a big advantage to be able to play younger girls that have experience and confidence.”
    The Panthers suffered a tough 17-11 loss against New Hampstead Wednesday night, but will have plenty of opportunities to get everything in line before region play kicks in.
    Portal travels to Glennville for a tournament at Tattnall County over the next two days and will host Aquinas and New Hampstead next week before kicking of the Region 3-A season at Savannah Christian Aug. 21.

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