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In a recent practice, Lackey head softball coach Jerry Barron asked Ariel Eleam, a junior transfer from Southern High School, on how the competition was in Anne Arundel County.

Eleam said, “Hey, there is not a [SMAC] conference like you have down here, so it’s a little bit different.’”

Eleam comes south to a Southern Maryland Athletic Conference that is regarded as one of the state’s toughest conferences to play in.

And she comes on board to a Lackey squad that delivered one of its most successful seasons in recent memory in 2013 with a 13-10 overall record, a seventh-place 6-6 finish in SMAC.

And the Chargers weren’t finished yet as they picked up a huge win against perennial postseason threat Glenelg of Howard County in the Class 2A South Region quarterfinals before the season wrapped up.

This season, Barron and the Chargers expect nothing less even though they graduated five seniors from a year ago.

“We lost some games that we shouldn’t have and won some close ones, but from last year to this year I’m looking for us to take the next step and improve,” Barron said. “When you look at the SMAC conference, there is competition up and down. And so when you get on the field, on any given day with most teams you are going to have a chance of winning and chance of losing.”

Lackey brings back eight returning starters on its 11-player roster and has a bevy of talent who play multiple positions.

“We will have to get used to picking up the slack and putting players in different spots, but I’m confident in my team,” Barron said. “I’ve seen a lot of these girls progress over the years, and most of them play travel ball.”

This season, the Chargers will use four pitchers who can all play other positions.

“I don’t think we will have anyone that [pitchers] will need to pitch around, but I’m comfortable with my hitting, and we’ve improved in that area,” Barron said. “The only issue between this year and last year is that when I put a pitcher on the mound I will need to fill that position adequately when that player leaves their natural position.”

“Last year we had a very good season, and this year we can definitely do the same,” said senior third baseman Alexis Clark, who had team highs in batting average (.529), on-base percentage (.545), slugging percentage (.671), fielding percentage (.948) and RBIs (29) last season.

Clark was a first-team All-SMAC and All-County selection last season.

“Without Kiera [Heleva] pitching, it will be tough, but we just have to work hard and stay positive,” she said. “Our pitchers have to throw strikes, and we have to play good defense.”

Clark added, “I want to do my best for this season because this is my last year of high school softball.”

Alexis’ sister Kayla, a junior shortstop, will be in a huge role this season as one of the core leaders on defense, along with junior second baseman Abby Richardson, a first-team All-County selection last season.

“I have to be a leader on this team, and at first I was nervous, but now I enjoy it. This season will be fun.” Kayla said. “The seniors last year were a huge asset to the team, but with this team we can have another successful season.”

Sophomore Gabby Sandy, the team’s starting catcher, said Lackey isn’t just any team but a team to be reckoned after last season’s turnaround.

“We just want to perform to the best of our abilities,” said Sandy, a first-team All-County selection last spring who batted .466. “Last season a lot of teams overlooked us, but we are a different team now. I learned a lot from [graduating catcher] Melody [Gibbons] on how to play catcher and keep the team fired up. We can go pretty far as we keep our heads straight and play as a team.”

Chargers sophomore center fielder Samantha Brown showed off her speed last season and made some huge catches as a freshman. She wants to continue to blossom this season as a standout player.

“If we put our minds to it, this team can be better than last season,” Brown said. “We are more like a family this season, and we will play more like a team.”

Lackey lost its season opener Saturday 8-2 to host Great Mills in a nonconference affair, which was makeup from Friday postponement. It is scheduled to host Westlake in a nonconference contest at 4:30 p.m. today.

ajmason@somdnews.com