Head coach: Sabrina Jones (1st year)
2018 record: 7-11
Last playoff appearance: 2016
Key losses: Makiyah Everett (1B), Aleyah Munford (OF), JaMorie Griffin (OF), Micayla Arnold (SS), Nadia Crawford (3B)
Key returners: Alexis Jones (P/CF), Enydirrah Jones, Gabrielle Woods, Ayanna Bradford-Greene
Outlook: A new era has begun at Rockdale County High School with many different coaching changes and the Bulldogs’ softball program is no different.
Sabrina Jones, who previously coached the General Ray Davis softball program, replaces Justin Arrington following his resignation from the team. With five starters from 2018 lost to graduation, the overhaul has been a positive one, Jones said.
“We’ve lifted a lot of weights and we’ve ran a lot at the stadium,” Jones said. “We’ve come a long way. We look really good. I’m excited for the girls. They all have shown some level of improvement, whether it’s mentally or from a skills point of view.”
With the likes of Region 8-AAAAAAA first-team selection Mikiyaah Everett graduated and standout outfielder Aleyah Munford set to continue her career at Mississippi Valley State next spring, Jones has turned to a large crop of rising juniors to lead the team in 2019.
Alexis Jones, her daughter, was a standout in the circle for the Bulldogs in 2018 while also carrying a .342 batting average. Expecting to have more help in the circle this season, Jones said she is excited about her team’s pitching talent.
“Alexis is throwing the ball really well, along with her counterpart, Gabrielle Woods,” Jones said. “She’s also throwing the ball well and has a lot of speed on the ball. We also have a freshman coming in, Layla Woods, who is a sibling of Gabby. She’s also in the circle, so I’m hoping that as the opportunities present itself that we get a chance to see her pitch.”
In the field, Jones pointed to two more of her juniors, catcher Ayanna Bradford-Greene and shortstop Enydirrah Jones, who are both poised for breakout seasons.
Bradford-Greene appeared in 17 games for the Bulldogs as a sophomore in 2018 and batted .395 with four doubles, two triples and six RBIs.
“Her energy on the field is contagious,” Jones said of Bradford-Greene. “The players laugh a lot with her. She’s very entertaining, and I think as long as she channels her energy on the field, it’s going to be a very positive impact for us.”
Jones will replace Micayla Arnold at shortstop, who finished her 2018 season holding a .340 batting average with one home run and nine RBIs.
“We have another junior by the name of Enydirrah Jones and she is owning her position,” Jones said. “She is making sure that everyone knows she is the shortstop and is going to work hard to keep the infield together. I’m excited about her attitude and her effort. I don’t think she’s missed very many workouts this summer. She’s been putting in the work in the weight room and on the field.”
The Bulldogs’ first-year head coach also pointed to two rising freshman who she expects to earn extended playing time in their first season sporting the red and black.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the freshmen can bring to the table,” Jones said.
“We have one freshman, Nylah Williams. She is an athlete. Layla Wood, another freshman, is going to surprise a lot of people. I’m looking forward to seeing her out there.”
WIlliams is listed as a first baseman while Wood is listed as both a second baseman and an outfielder on top of her pitching duties.
The Bulldogs’ hopes of snapping a two-year playoff drought last season was put to rest by the likes of Shiloh and cross-county rival Newton, two teams against which they lost by two runs or less. The Bulldogs were swept by the Generals, 9-8, 8-7, and lost one of their two games to Newton, 8-6.
Victories in those games would have cemented the Bulldogs in the playoffs as the region’s No. 4 seed.
With a new crop of players and fresh mindsets, Jones believes her team can snap its playoff drought and make the big dance for the first time since 2016.
“I think the goal is very attainable,” Jones said. “I feel that if we stick to our game and we hit the ball the way that we’ve been hitting it this summer that we’ll have a great chance of making the playoffs. We just have to stay focused and keep our attitudes positive. That will be the biggest factor right there. Making sure our attitudes stay dialed into the game and not get distracted. Our focus this year is our work ethic and our attitude.”