A changing of the guard took place this season when Kendra Murphy took over the Centralia varsity softball program, and what came with that was a record of 15-11 overall, 5-2 Clarence Cannon Conference.
In 2017 the Lady Panthers had gone 20-7 overall and had won the CCC by going undefeated, so the standard had been set fairly high by previous skipper Jill Angell. Murphy, on the other hand, who only lost to Monroe City and Macon in league play in year one, knew some things about her new squad coming into 2018 that perhaps wasn't common knowledge.
"We were very young with one returning starter and so we had a long way to come over the course of the year. I knew we weren't going to be at our best at the beginning of the season. It was going to take a lot of refinement along the way and I didn't exactly know how far we were going to come in a year," said Murphy. "They performed better than my preseason expectations, except I had planned to make it past the first round of districts. I could not have asked for a better group of girls to coach."
In the opening game of Class 3, District 8, on Oct. 10 the Lady Panthers lost a tight pitching duel at Southern Boone 1-0. In 2017 Centralia drew a bye for the opening round of Class 2, District 8, before mercying Montgomery County 15-0, only to then get upset in the district title game by North Callaway 5-2.
"We didn't have any injuries, discipline issues, facility problems, lack of equipment or transportation complications. Our school, school board, and administration make it a priority to provide our athletes with the tools that they need to succeed," Murphy said. "We also had zero issues with the weather. We didn't lose out on any games this season."
Because of the nature of the roster she inherited, graduation won't be a big issue for Murphy in year one. But, she's not getting off unscathed, either.
"We will be graduating one senior. Being our only returning starter from 2017 it meant a lot to the team to have a veteran pitcher," said Murphy. "She lead our team in almost all of our offensive categories. She was a huge part of our team and we are going to have to have our other pitchers step up to challenge of being the new number one."
Some of the more noteable early-season victories for the Lady Panthers included defeating Highland at home 3-1 on Sept. 4, a week later on Sept. 11 Centralia edged out eventual Class 3 state champion Mexico 4-3 and at Brookfield on Sept. 3 the squad shut out its hosts 5-0. This team also got things going late in the year by downing Palmyra 9-8 at home on Oct. 4, on Oct. 2 the Lady Panthers mercied Hallsville 17-2 and Centralia was victorious at Battle 6-3 on Oct. 1.
"I'm excited to see what next season brings. Returning eight starters makes me smile. We're going to be a much stronger team next season. It'll come down to how much our new pitchers rise to the challenge. We have a very strong Senior class next year and they get along very well so bring on next season," Murphy said. "This season was a great start to my career at Centralia. I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to coach here. I really enjoyed this season and look to do nothing but improve."