Paola awaits Cards Monday
Last year the Eudora Cardinal softball team began the year by facing one of the state's top pitchers in Ottawa's Megan Ramsey.
To begin the 2006 campaign, the Cardinals dodge the proverbial bullet and will take the field in the comfort of home against the Paola Panthers.
Despite not having to face one of the game's best so early in the season, the Cardinals will come up against a team coming off of a successful 14-6 year.
"You can't take anybody lightly," Eudora coach Cara Kimberlin said. "They have a lot of good players and it will definitely be a challenge."
Eudora handed the Panthers one of their six overall losses last year -- a late season 4-2 decision -- and will look to duplicate the effort in order to begin 2006 on a positive note and avoid last year's 1-5 start.
Going into Monday's season opener, the Cardinals' lineup will take on a Panthers team returning some top pitching and speed on defense.
Junior pitcher Britton Evans, who returns a 2005 mark of 8-2 to go along with 48 strikeouts, will likely get the nod as Monday's starter.
On defense, Paola brings back Shannon Hill and Natalie Nelson in the outfield, while the Cardinals may have to deal with the speed of Brittany Miller in center. The Panther junior is a first-year softball player, but has demonstrated her speed on the
basketball court as Paola's standout player for the past two seasons.
Eudora should be able to match the Panthers' outfield speed with some movers of its own.
Junior Beth Folks and freshman Bailey Scott may give the Cardinal defense an extra edge with some quick feet in the outfield.
"Beth is fast and so is Bailey. She can close on a ball in the outfield," Kimberlin said. "Between her and Beth the gap gets closed pretty quick out there."
The Panthers also face a similar problem the Cardinals have dealt with this season -- the departure of their senior catcher.
Like the Cardinals' Alissa Hamilton, Paola replaces the bat and backstop glove of Tiffany Craner. The departed Panther had 15 runs batted in, with a season average of .375.
"They lost a really good player there at catcher," Kimberlin said. "They're kind of like us in the fact they have to replace someone, but I don't know what they'll do to replace her."
Eudora will replace Hamilton with sophomore Kayci Vickers, who will join a Cardinal lineup that touts more left-handed bats than at any time last year.
Many of the Cardinals have worked on moving to the left side over the offseason, including senior third baseman Kelsey Epperson and junior pitcher Brynn Hamilton. Those new left-handed bats could be key for the Cardinals in dealing with a Panther defense that has good speed and sure hands.
"They've all worked on slapping the ball to the opposite field on the left-hand side," Kimberlin said. "It gives us some versatility and puts some of them one step closer to first base."
Eudora gets the Frontier League season opener under way at 4:30 p.m. Monday at the softball field south of the high school.