OAK HILL — It’s quite possible that last year could have been the breakthrough season Oak Hill had been waiting for.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and collapsed all chances for that to happen. Now the Oaks are somewhat hitting the reset button as Tom McNerlin takes over the program and hopes this can be the start of a new era of Oak softball.
“I was the varsity assistant for the last couple of year under then-head coach Renea Butts, and the opportunity came to take over so I took it,” McNerlin said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and we’re ready to finally get on the field for an actual game.”
Although the Oaks suffered some losses in the lineup, they are lucky enough to return senior standout pitcher and West Liberty signee Kailey Adkins to the circle.
Adkins was the featured pitcher in the Oaks’ 16-10 season in 2019 and helped lead them to their first playoff victory since roughly the start of the decade.
Additionally, junior Brenna Davis will see action in the circle this season while also manning down first base to fortify the strength of the Oaks.
“Kailey’s pitching speaks for itself, I’ll put her in the game anywhere at anytime and I know she’ll come through for us,” McNerlin said. “Brenna isn’t far behind Kailey, she’s just as good. Our pitching is definitely our strength and that’s what will keep us in games and win games.”
Four-year starters Desirae Sharp and Kyla Simmonds returns to their respective positions as catcher and center fielder, while Tamron McCain transitions from first base to shortstop.
Camryn Kirby and Chloe Potter round out the rest of infield while Olivia Clarkson and Morgan Kearns join Simmonds in the outfield.
Also watch for Trinity Jones and Kallan Kinzel to see some action and contribute to the Oaks’ attack this season.
In the past, Oak Hill has been known in recent for letting the long ball do much of the talking, and understandably so with Caitlyn Brisker and Andrea Lewis in the lineup.
This time around, the Oaks will be a lot of methodical and strategic with their approach from game to game.
“We’re going to play fast and use our speed as much as possible,” McNerlin said. “We still have some power, but we’re going to use small ball more than anything. It’s my job to generate runs and put us in the best position to score and take advantage of situations.”
McNerlin understands, much like the rest of the SOC II knows, that the conference still runs through Wheelersburg.
However, at some point the Pirates won’t be atop the standings anymore, and Oak Hill figures why can’t it be the Oaks who take the conference crown.
“We’re going to compete and put ourselves in the best position to win games and titles,” McNerlin said. “2019 was the first time we’d even won a tournament game in 8-9 years, so we’re creating a belief that we’re as good as anybody else. We’re ready to get the season started and see what happens when its all said and done.”
Oak Hill opens its season on Saturday with a doubleheader at Rock Hill.