Softball eager to work its way back into postseason play

By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Sun

There’s nothing worse than standing on the sidelines and watching someone else decide your fate, your season, your dream.

Take that bitter memory and throw it in the mix along with five (yes, 5) new pitchers on the mound, some added speed and an All-American bat in the middle of the lineup who cares as much about the team as she cares about her OPS or any other stat they use to measure All-Americans these days and you start to get an idea about the 2018 Navarro softball team.

But then again, that’s just a starting point.

There’s so much more to this team.

“We have more heart,’’ said Krissy Johnson, one of six sophomores who believes Navarro’s Dawgs will flip their fortunes around this season. And she believes that because she believes in her teammates — every one of them.

The Dawgs open their season on Friday in Galveston, where they will have a dugout full of question marks, but no one questions this team’s heart.

Just listen to Yasmin Melero, who also returns.

“We’re more of a team this year,” she said. “Everyone is here for the player next to them.”

“We play better, playing for each other,” said Brylee Dickinson, finishing Melero’s thought.

Dickinson, a catcher and utility infielder from Tulsa; Melero, a third baseman from El Paso; and Johnson, an outfielder from Aledo, are all back from last year‘s team along with All-American catcher Taylor Goulet. Those four share the memory of not making it to the postseason for a program that lives in the postseason.

What’s worse is that Navarro was shut out of the Region XIV Tournament and had to spend the end of the season scoreboard watching.

“We had to depend on someone else to lose for us to get it,” Melero said. “Our season was up to somebody else.”

The top four teams made it to the tournament, and Navarro was fifth, and had to hope Kilgore lost in order to open the door for the Dawgs. Kilgore nailed down the fourth spot.

“That was the worst feeling ever,” Goulet said.

That feeling will be there when they take the diamond this season, not so much in the back of their heads. It’s more likely to show up in the pits of their stomachs — like a punching bag that has been hit too hard.

Talk to the four returners and you’ll get that feeling right away. All four are ready to punch back.

“We need to control our own destiny,” Goulet said.

If anyone believes team this can do just that, it’s Navarro coach Jessica Karenke-Burke, who has controlled Navarro’s destiny for 16 years.

She’s a legend. She has won 561 games at Navarro and has a .644 winning percentage. Her teams have reached the playoffs 14 times in 16 years, and four have made it to the national tournament, including her 2015 team.

“I really like this team,” she said. “I like their competitiveness. They all want it. They want to be the one, and they will make each other better. They are fun to be around. They have the ability to bounce back from adversity.

“They’re not afraid to work,’’ she said. “They‘re fun to be around. We’re not going to be flashy, but I feel like the talent we have we can be compared to the (2015) team that we took to the national tournament. That team wasn’t flashy. They were grinders and they worked hard. That’s the way this team is.

“They are going to work. They’re not going to quit on you. They want to work. You see it in practice every day. They’re diving for balls and working for each other.”

She knows there will be some questions with five new arms, including sophomore Katlynn Kaminski, who transferred to Navarro last year from Louisiana-Monroe and then was red-shirted with an injury.

The new pitching staff also includes Corsicana High’s Chelsea Vandiver, who was the ace for the Tigers for four years and a multiple Golden Circle Pitcher of the Year. The other three freshmen are Megan Segree, a right-hander from McAllen, Elisa Suarez, a right-hander from Bishop, and Makensie Miller, a right-hander from Forney’s powerhouse program. Kamo Wells, a speedy outfielder, also came from Forney.

“In 17 years I’ve never had five new pitchers,” she said. “Obviously, the unknown would be the worst part of it, but it will also be the best part of it. They want to work as hard as they can. The five we have is a good mix. We won’t know for a while (how good they are), but I think it’s good for the staff. They will have days when they don’t have their best stuff and others will have to step in. I like them. They’re fighters. They’re competitive. They all want to be the best.”

 The Dawgs should score plenty of runs. Goulet brings back a big bat that hit five homers and drove in 29 runs in 34 games. She hit .400 with a .500 on-base-percentage, and she had a .674 slugging percentage and a 1.174 OPS.

There isn’t a number to measure her leadership skills.

“Taylor is the most positive kid you will ever be around,” Karenke-Burke said. “She’s a great leader. She wants to succeed for her teammates so bad. She will do whatever it takes.”

One of the biggest additions to this year’s team comes from Mildred, where Maddie Moore was a superstar in volleyball, basketball and softball, where she was the Golden Circle Offensive Player of the year two years ago as a senior. She transferred to Navarro after a year at Highland College, and is thrilled to be here.

“I really like the energy we have,” said Moore, an outfielder who brings her own brand of energy to the game. “Everybody expects to have a good season.”

Moore will be a part of that. Karenke-Burke summed her the Mildred sparkplug up in one sentence. “Maddie brings a lot of spunk,” she said.

“We’re going to have some speed with Johnson, Wells and Maddie,’’ she said. “We’re not going to hit a ton of home runs, but we’re going to focus on what we are. We still have some kids who can hit the long ball. It’s not going to be the same kid every time.”

The mix is good and the attitude and energy couldn’t be much better to start the year.

“Everybody is ready to step up,“ Melero said, “to step up for each other.”

  “And the chemistry is there,” Dickinson added. “We would die for each other.”