Sports Editor

BYNG — Welcome back, Shawna.

Byng head softball coach Shawna Haynes-Senkel returned to her post with the Lady Pirates during a Monday practice session after missing the entire season on pregnancy leave.

Then Tuesday night, she coached in her first two games of the season in a varsity doubleheader against Vanoss at Bobby Johns Field.

Call it a triumphant return.

Byng showed a resurgence at the plate, combing for 26 runs on 31 hits and swept past a dangerous Vanoss club by counts of 10-0 and 16-8 in a pair of run-rule victories. And Lady Pirates, who have struggled all spring, doubled their win total as they improved to 4-14.

“It’s so good to be back,” Senkel said. “We might have scored more runs in these two games than we have all season.”

Byng opened the season as high as No. 5 in the Class 5A rankings after making their way to the state tournament in 2005. But this BHS squad lost six starters from that team — if you count current Tupelo stud Katie Campbell.

“We’re young. Really, this is a whole new team and it’s been a big adjustment to them. Everybody is playing a new position,” she said.

One of the biggest losses from last year’s state tournament team was ever-steady pitcher Kyla Hawkins. And the Lady Pirates struggled to find a replacement early in the season. But assistant coach Jade Benson, who guided the Lady Pirates in Senkel’s absence — finally moved shortstop Logan Needham to the mound and that move has proven fruitful.

“Against Latta earlier this season, I think we walked 10 batters. You can do that and then let people like Chelsey Bennett and Charissa Smith come up and hit,” Senkel said.

But Needham has been throwing strikes for the most part and has taken to her new role in impressive fashion.

“It was a tough decision to put her on the mound, because she’s such a good fielder. But she has nerves of steel and throws strikes,” Senkel said.

Senkel went to Washington this past week and watched her team drop a 9-1 decision to the host Lady Warriors (No. 1 in Class 4A) and a slim 3-2 setback to Wayne (No. 3 in Class 3A) in which Byng led most of the game.

But even in defeat, Senkel could tell her team was coming around, especially at the plate.

“At Washington we hit the ball hard, just right at people. But it looks like we have finally made adjustments and are placing the ball better,” Senkel said. “Everything is finally coming together. They’re all getting used to their new spots. They seem like a different team.”

In the opener against Vanoss Tuesday, Needham allowed just one hit in four innings.

The Lady Pirates broke open a tight game with six runs in the bottom of the third. Five different players — Needham, Kelsey Williamson, Kayla Johnson, Megan Pregler and Kristina Murray — all had two hits apiece in a 14-hit Byng attack.

In Game 2, with Vanoss leading 4-3, Byng scored seven runs in the bottom of the fourth to take control of that contest.

Cila Dunnigan went 3-for-4 and scored three times and Murray also had three hits and two RBIs in a 17-hit Byng effort. Needham, Williamson, Johnson and Pregler again had two hits each.

Of Byng’s 14 losses this spring — to the best of Senkel’s memory — all have come against ranked teams.

“Like I keep telling the girls, it’s not like we’ve been losing to the Sister’s of the Poor. Our schedule has been rugged,” she said.

Think it will get easier before Byng travels to Sulphur next week for Class 5A District Tournament action? Think again.

Byng has just four more regular season games left and three of those will come against Davenport, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A all season long. The Lady Pirates travel to Davenport for a varsity doubleheader Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

Then, next Monday on Senior Night, Davenport will visit Byng for a festival that also includes Washington.

“After our schedule, we shouldn’t be surprised by anything in the playoffs,” Senkel said. “I hope we’re peaking at the right time.”