Jason Bowen

The North Jackson softball team surprised with a third-place finish in the 2018 Class 4A state softball tournament, then followed it up with another third-place finish in 2019.

Now the challenge after losing four seniors, including two-time all-state players and now college softball players Amber Atkins and Josie Thompson, is to keep North Jackson among the state’s elite in Class 4A. Returning players — the Chiefs have six starters returning — know there will be doubts, but they’re  determined to make North Jackson a perennial state contender rather than a program that just had a good run.

“There’s a big drive. A lot of people are doubting us because we lost some good players,” said senior first baseman Mikayla Barnes. “We want to be the best. We don’t want it to stop.”

Juniors Hadley Burnette and Makenna Jones believe the Chiefs’ offseason will determine how far into May they play next season.

“We need to work harder than we did last year because we lost four great seniors. I think we’ve got to prepare ourselves mentally for what we’re going to face. Even though we got third place in the state, that’s not good enough in our minds,” Jones said. “We’ve got new leaders, new players, stepping up. It’s not only your seniors’ responsibility to step up, it’s everybody’s, no matter your age. We need to keep working. The offseason is the most important thing. If we don’t work, we won’t be good.”

Added Burnette, “It’s going to take us working every day, doing everything we’re supposed to.”

That mentality, along with a rising popularity in the North Jackson communities, have the softball program setting a firm foundation. North Jackson held tryouts recently with 24 players making up the varsity and junior varsity teams. North Jackson will also have a middle school team for the first time comprised of 13 players from Bridgeport, Hollywood and Stevenson middle schools.

“We’ve got a lot of interest,” said North Jackson head coach Kevin Thompson. “We’ve got a good thing started. We’ve got a bullseye on us, aren’t going to sneak up on anybody anymore. Really need these players to buy in. This offseason will go a long way toward this season.”

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› Jason Bowen is the sports editor of the Sentinel. Email him at jason.bowen@jcsentinel.com. Follow Jason on Twitter at @jbo_sports12

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