Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Sports

February 9, 2014

Cleburne softball eyes playoffs in ‘14

CLEBURNE — The Cleburne Lady Jacket softball program has seen its share of struggles in recent years, but under a new head coach, Kala Winn, the expectation for the 2014 season is improvement — and a playoff berth.

Winn, the daughter of Cleburne’s head baseball coach, Ross Taylor, knows what it’s like as a member of a successful Lady Jacket softball team. She was a key figure in Cleburne’s last successful era in the early 2000’s.

Winn said Taylor has played an important role, not only in her life, but also from a coaching standpoint. And she said she hopes the Lady Jackets can get to the level that Taylor has brought the Cleburne baseball program.

“There are many factors that are definitely playing a key role in the momentum towards re-establishing the quality of softball here at Cleburne,” Winn said. “I am invested in this program, and I experienced what it was like to play here as a four-year starter when the program was very successful. I have had great experiences, and I just want my girls to gain those experiences as well, because they have worked hard, and without a doubt, deserve it.”

Winn said she has learned just about everything she knows from her father, but two things stand out from a coaching standpoint.

“I think what I have learned from my dad the most is just to keep it honest,” she said. “Sometimes honesty is the hardest thing for people to hear. It seems honesty isn’t very popular these days, but being honest to my girls and keeping them honest and accountable has definitely been a big game change this year. I have also learned from my dad to take risks — no one ever stole second with their foot still on first base. I definitely have adopted game strategy from him, and the discipline it takes to be successful. I have told my girls if we aren’t the best athletes, then we have to be cerebral and aggressive. And they understand I have zero tolerance for non-present minds and non-hustle. I need players that are mentally tough, that when I get on to them they accept the challenge, and they know it’s not personal, but the opposite — it is because I care.

“Not only emulating my father, but earning his approval has always been a driving force in my life. He used to say to my brother and I, ‘All I am asking for is your best.’ But deep down we knew that satisfaction for him would only come when we were the best. And I know that is how I coach as well. I push these girls until their breaking point, just to prove to them that they can go beyond what they ever thought they could. They have to be mentally tough, and sometimes you have to learn that the hard way.”

Despite the struggles in recent seasons, Winn said the Lady Jackets are only focused on this season, and nothing in the past.

“I’m a new coach and this is a new year,” she said. “I have focused no attention to the past, and we have gone to work every day with this season in mind. Our ultimate goal is playoffs. And every day we have done what is necessary to work towards that goal. The seniors chose the motto ‘Grind Now. Shine Later.’ They understand that if they want that ultimate goal, that grinding it out every day is exactly what has to happen. This is their last chance to ‘shine.’”

The Lady Jackets return several key players from last season, including junior Mackenzie Kirkpatrick, senior Alli Suitt, senior Savannah Milne, sophomore Jadyn Luna and junior Jacqueline Torres, among others.

“I am expecting Mackenzie and Alli to bring their A-game this season,” Winn said. “Mackenzie signed a college scholarship this fall, and I expect her to stay hungry, and remember that ‘good enough’ never is. I’m looking for her to have no to few errors defensively, and to be a dominate force in the box. She is a multi-faceted player. I am looking for her to knock in RBI’s, and lay down the small ball when the situation requires her to.

“Alli will be the starter out of basketball and it is her position to lose. She will share mound time with Mackenzie and Jadyn. We do not have a dominate force on the mound, and so these girls will have to pick each other up whenever the other doesn’t have it that day, and the team will have to be solid defensively in order for us to win.

“I am holding every player on varsity equally accountable for the success and outcome of our season. I’m not looking for one or two players to carry the load, but I am looking for a team, with chemistry, to come together and stay consistent, and to pick each other up when needed. Consistency is key.”

Being solid defensively was the Lady Jackets biggest issue in 2013 as errors, especially at critical times during games, led directly to several losses.

“Since August, we have been pushing toward high reps, team defense and knowledge-based drills,” Winn said. “I wanted to put the ball in their hands so much this offseason that eventually fielding, throwing and hitting the cut-off the correct way is second nature. That has been the goal; defense, defense, defense. We are going to get beat, but I can’t and won’t handle beating ourselves off of errors.”

The Lady Jackets are scheduled to open their season at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Worth South Hills, but the game may be moved to a different date so Cleburne fans can support the Lady Jacket basketball team at their playoff game. Cleburne’s District 8-4A opener is Feb. 28 at Everman.

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