Manila Lady Lions put together another successful softball season, taking home the 3A-3 District Championship and a berth in the Class 3A State Championship in Pine Bluff.
First-year Manila coach Jeff Priest directed the Lady Lions to a 20-8 season, despite playing one of the more difficult schedules in the area. "We had a very good season," said Priest. "These kids made my job a lot easier, especially since it was my first year here. They worked hard every day and did everything I asked of them. I would also like to thank Junior Wise for all his help. He didn't get paid to be out there, but he was there all the time and he was a big reason we did as well as we did," said Priest.
The Lady Lions got off to a slow start to the year, but turned things around with what Priest called the "biggest win of the year" in a victory over Salem. "Salem had beaten us something like 18-1 last year, so beating them gave us a lot of confidence and showed the girls that they could have a successful season," added Priest.
Another big win for Manila came in the regional tournament, when the Lady Lions rallied from two runs down to defeat Flippin, a victory that propelled Manila to their second consecutive state tournament appearance. "We were down two runs in the last inning, tied the game up, and then won it in extra innings," said Priest. "Obviously that was a huge win for us. Your goal is always to go to the state tournament and we accomplished that, so I am very proud of the team, especially the way they came from behind to pull out the win," said Priest.
Manila, which had only one senior on the roster, was led by a group made up mostly of sophomores. Kimberly Wise proved to be the Lady Lions' most valuable player. Wise was the ace of the pitching staff and led the team in hitting with a .468 average. The sophomore stole 43 bases. Wise finished with a sparkling .157 earned run average with 185 strikeouts while issuing just 21 walks. Wise also fired a pair of no-hitters. "Kimberly is just a very good all-around athlete," said Priest. "She struck out over 100 batters, which is unheard of. When she is on the mound, you know you always have a chance to win. She is also a very good hitter," added Priest. Wise was an All-Conference, All-Region, All-State and an All-State Tournament Team selection.
Junior outfielder Colleen Kemp also topped the .400 mark, finishing with a .429 batting average. Kemp also stole 31 bases on the year. "Colleen is an excellent outfielder," said Priest. "If something was hit in the outfield, we knew Colleen would catch it. She made All-Conference and finished one vote shy of making the All-State Tournament team. She never lets anything bother her. She is just a very cool customer," said Priest.
Sophomore first baseman Katie Donner was also one of the top hitters for the Lady Lions, coming in at a .362 clip while stealing 30 bases and finishing with 12 runs batted in. "Katie is the same in baseball as she is in basketball," said Priest. "She doesn't do anything great, but she does everything good. She was our Gold Glove winner, making just two errors on the season, and was solid for us in every game. She came up with a lot of big hits for us during the year," said Priest. Donner also made the All-Conference team.
Manila's clean-up hitter was sophomore catcher Jonna Dodd. Dodd led the team in RBIs with 17 and joined with Wise to form one of the best batteries in the area. "Jonna didn't hit for a high average, but she always seemed to come up with the big hit when we needed it, especially late in the year," said Priest. "They were hits that either tied the game or gave us the lead. She did a great job behind the plate," said Priest. Dodd also garnered All-Conference honors for the Lady Lions.
The vocal leader of the team was sophomore right fielder Brooke Hill, who was also the team's best bunter. "Brooke hit .270 for us, and stole 17 bases while coming up with some timely hits," said Priest. "But her biggest attribute was her leadership," said Priest.
Sophomore shortstop Leigha Woody faced the toughest task at the beginning of the season for Manila, having to replace the departed Katie Veach, which was not an easy thing to do, according to Priest. "We asked Leigha at the start of the year if she could play shortstop for us, and she said she would give it a try. She worked very hard and did an excellent job for us. She has the best arm on the team, and I think next year she can be an all-conference performer. I see a lot of big things ahead for her. She was also second on the team in RBIs with 16, and she drove in some big runs," said Priest.
Sophomore Kristen Painter was the Lady Lions' third baseman. Painter hit at a .290 clip and played an excellent third base defensively. "Kristen kind of got off to a slow start, but as the year went on, she just kept getting better and better," said Priest. "She started hitting seventh in the order, but ended up in the number three hole. She really did a good job at the plate for us," said Priest. Painter joined Wise on the All-Region team.
Junior second baseman Chantel Hames was Manila's most improved player. "Chantel improved more than anyone else on the team during the year," said Priest. "She started out as a spot player, but then began to play every game. She also came up with some very big hits for us," said Priest.
The Lady Lions' only senior was outfielder Heather Dozhier. "Heather was a very good leader for us and was our only senior," said Priest. "We will really miss Heather out there," said Priest.
Freshman Peyton Joyner also received some valuable playing time and Priest believes she will really help Manila in the future.
"I am really expecting big things next year with almost everyone coming back, and hopefully a couple more will come out for the team," continued Priest. "This is a great group of girls to work with and I think we will get better and better in the coming years," concluded Priest.