LOCUST GROVE - When looking at the Strong Rock Lady Patriots, there were a lot of questions at the beginning of the year as to where they'd finish, and rightfully so.
But as the season has reached it's midway point, the Lady Patriots were looking like a true postseason threat following their victory over ELCA.
Until Brittney Lewis showed up. With one year pushing the Eagle's Landing Golden Eagles to a .500 record, Lewis was tasked with righting a ship that was sinking.
Strong Rock's results suffered in 2017 and 2018 with just 14 wins between the two seasons and 26 losses. There was another glaring issue that the Lady Patriots faced, a postseason drought since their 2016 push.
Under Lewis' lead, the Lady Patriots are sitting at 11-6 on the campaign and in a position to possibly return to the playoffs. But it was a learning process for the Lady Patriots.
"When I came here, we battle with numbers at a private school," Lewis admitted. "Even though we have a big opportunity with seven freshmen with six of them starting that are all athletes, we had to change the culture and the mindset here to learn how to compete. I feel like a lot of these girls before used to look at this like something to do and didn't have the heart to compete and win ball games. So, we spent a great deal of time on mental training and learning how to compete and do things the right way and finish games."
But even so, there is a youth issue that the Lady Patriots will have to overcome. Lewis has never been in a situation where she coached so many young athletes around the age of 13, especially at the varsity level.
It's a challenge for both coach and player according to Lewis.
"I've never coached girls this young, I think four out of the six came in at 13-years old," Lewis said. "That's another thing, being a private school. A lot of times at a public school, you have a junior varsity and there's development programs before you get to this level."
Without having a foundation under the youthful players, the intangibles of maturity and softball IQ were missing on the field at the beginning. But over time, even with a few mental mistakes here and there, the talent level spoke for itself.
"They weren't mentally prepared to compete against 17- and 18- year old's but we spent a great deal of time doing situational things and doing reps in live game situations," Lewis said. "We've done a book study and it's really built up their mindset on competing at a high level and learning how to channel where they feel short comings with their age and channel it in a positive direction in order for them to compete against higher level kids."
Batting-wise, junior Lyndsey Partlow leads the team through 17 games, a smooth .558 batting average has been coupled with 25 RBIs. That's not count out sophomore Charla Drake's .447 average while freshman Mikah Fluellen leads the freshmen class with .319 and 14 RBIs.
McKenna Shirah's pitching has been a huge bolstering piece for this season with 74 punchouts and a low ERA of 1.96.
Time will tell how the Lady Patriots mature as they're no seniors on the squad and, barring any random issues, should see everyone return in 2020.