Ellis, Lady Vikes use summer schedule to adjust to changes

Published 4:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2023

Even though one season just ended and the next is eight months away, summer can be a pivotal time for a softball program as players try to make an impression and lay the foundation for success.

For Warren Central, this one has been more crucial than most.

The team not only dealt with a coaching change for the first time in 17 years, but it was one that brought some unease to a culture of stability. Brian Ellis came over from crosstown rival Vicksburg and had to win over a roster that had long treated him as an enemy.

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“It’s probably as important as it’s been through my career,” said Ellis, who spent 10 seasons at Vicksburg before moving to Warren Central. “It was very important that we played some games so they could get used to me and I could get used to them and see what they could do. Hopefully it’ll put us in a better spot.”

The clash of cultures was quickly settled, it seems, and the Lady Vikes are moving ahead. They finished their summer workout schedule last week and went 4-0 in a series of scrimmage games against Pearl, Florence and St. Aloysius.

The extra time to adjust to each other turned old rivals into friends and is providing optimism for next season.

“We like him a lot. At first we were a little leery about it, but we warmed up to it,” senior outfielder Jenn Smith said. “He’s really nice and uplifting. He never gets on anybody’s head or anything. He just wants people to get better. He’s not being rude.”

After Ellis was hired in May to replace longtime coach Dana McGivney — she took the job as Oxford’s head coach — talk swirled around Warren Central’s program that some players might opt to transfer or not play next season.

Most stayed on board, and Ellis thanked them for the chance to prove himself.

“It’s gone smooth. I think the girls did a good job coming in with an open mind. I know through all the stuff at the beginning, it was like, ‘Holy crap,’” he said. “And then for me it was making sure that I’m not throwing too much at them and a ton of changes that they’re not used to. Those things will have time to work out.”

Warren Central only lost three starters to graduation, but they were an important and talented trio — catcher Lola Crozier, pitcher Abby Morgan and center fielder Kayleigh Karel. All three signed with junior colleges.
Finding a pitcher to replace Morgan was a goal this summer. She was The Vicksburg Post’s Player of the Year in 2021 and 2023 and struck out 174 batters last season.

Maddie Pant is in line to take on the role. She pitched 41 innings and had a 2.73 ERA with 41 strikeouts. Freshman Keke McKay has also shown promise, Ellis said.

“Maddie’s been throwing phenomenal. Keke, as a freshman, has come in and been pretty good, too. If we can have that it takes a weight off of having one pitcher,” Ellis said.

Ellis added that there are still plenty of things to work on. Bunting and baserunning, he said, were two notable areas where the Lady Vikes missed some opportunities during their June games. Some of that will improve as coaches and players continue to learn each other’s abilities and tendencies.

“We’ve left some people on base. We haven’t bunted a lot, and game-wise we’ve had some situations where we missed some bunts,” Ellis said. “And then them just knowing me when they have the green light when they’re on the bases. I’ve got a lot of speed and a lot of smart players. So it’s knowing what it means to have the green light and when they should be looking to take that next base. Building into more of that stuff.”

All in all, what started as a summer of uncertainty concluded with a positive vibe.

“Things really clicked back to normal. We all just do what we should do,” Smith said. “We’ve won all our games and done good in all of our games. I think our season’s very promising.”

It’s a long way until February, when the 2024 campaign begins in earnest, but Ellis said he’s ready to start now.

“The girls are working hard and they’re getting reps. We’re learning each other. It’s been kind of exciting because their attitudes and character and everything else has been amazing. Our senior leadership is really, really good. They’re doing a good job and leading by example is a huge thing,” he said. “I wish the season was starting next week, to be honest with you.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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