In 2013, Independence softball coach Amanda Jardina inherited a Patriot team coming off a 17-2 season, a conference title and a disappointing second-round playoff exit.
Up to that point, the recent past hadn’t been all that kind to the Patriot softball program as they were mostly uncompetitive and watched other teams dominate the conference and go on to regional and state titles.
But since she’s arrived Jardina has been a model of consistency, keeping the Patriots in constant contention while leading Independence to a 96-55 record (.636 win percentage).
But something has always been missing until this season.
Sure, the Patriots have been competitive and they’ve finished above .500 each season since Jardina took over, but dominant seasons from Porter Ridge, Butler and others have kept them from repeating her first-year success.
But from the beginning this spring has been different, and after beating Myers Park 7-3 on April 25, the Patriots finished the regular season 14-5 and 12-2 in conference, which earns them a share of their first Southwestern 4A crown since 2013.
After a 1-2 start to the season, the wins have piled up as the team played off its cohesiveness that includes three sister duos among the 12-girl roster. And the Patriots didn’t graduate anyone from last year.
“We’re playing with the same girls this year and we’re more comfortable and playing with the same pieces,” said sophomore first baseman Mallory Shaver who shares the field with her sister Emily, a senior middle infielder. “We know where everybody should go and what our roles are so it’s made it much easier.”
Sisters Kayla and Maya Douglas may epitomize the bond this team has and why it leads to so much success.
Maya Douglas, a sophomore middle infielder, remembers her younger years trying to compete directly with her sister, senior pitcher Kayla Douglas.
“Kayla has been pitching forever and at first I wanted to pitch and be like her,” Maya Douglas said. “We know that didn’t work out, but from there she’s taught me how to better control my emotions. Kayla is really good about that. I’m a very competitive person so I want to be better than her, but we don’t play the same position so I am fine being her teammate now. We compliment each other really well.”
Kayla Douglas has been on the mound for every big game and has gotten the Patriots out of some pretty big jams.
She’s not necessarily a power arm, but has struck out 68 batters in 71.1 innings of work and has a 3.04 ERA and is also hitting .325 with nine RBIs.
While Kayla has the other team on lockdown from the circle, Maya helps lead a terrific and deep offensive charge.
Maya leads the Patriots in most offensive categories including batting average (.549), doubles (nine), home runs (five) and RBIs (32) in what has been a very impressive season at the plate.
Mallory Shaver has been another huge reason for the Patriots title run.
After batting .268 as a freshman, she is hitting .526 this season with 27 runs scored, 21 RBIs and nine doubles among her 13 extra-base hits.
“I think part of it is my confidence has grown and I also work with a hitting coach and I think she’s really helped me out,” she said. “But I feel really comfortable on this team and when I’m up at the plate this year.”
Emily Shaver is batting .333 with 15 runs scored and seven RBIs.
The last sister duo, Brianna and Mackenzie Grant, is having a similar impact. MacKenzie, a sophomore outfielder/first baseman, is batting .378 with 13 runs scored and 13 RBIs while Brianna, a four-year varsity outfielder, is hitting .462 with 10 runs scored and 11 RBIs despite missing several games with an injury.
When she returns, she’ll join other Patriot standouts including Jaylin Adkins (.400 and 18 runs scored), Abriana Berry (.391, 22 runs scored and 17 RBIs) and four-year starter Anna Easter (.327 11 RBIs and 11 runs scored) who have had a major impact on the Patriots first conference title in six years.
“This season has been my favorite forever,” Kayla Douglas said. “We have a family. We’ve figured out how to put the pieces together.”
The Patriots have already made history with their conference title, but they’re looking to keep this run going as long as they can.
The NCHSAA hasn’t released the playoff bracket yet, but the Patriots will have a good seed and are confident as they’ve won 13 of their past 16 games.
“It helps that everyone can hit and we don’t have bumps in the road along the way. Everyone on this team can hit,” Easter said. “That’s really helped us. It would be amazing as our last memory to win. We want to go out with a bang.”