Waynesville's softball team leans heavily on senior Diamond Thomas, but she delivers with great performances and a winning personality

WAYNESVILLE — Diamond Thomas, the Waynesville softball Tigers' senior ace pitcher, is excited for the upcoming season.

It doesn't matter to her that she's losing six seniors from the defense behind her, although that accounted for an entire outfield and a solid chunk of the infield.

No, she doesn't think that dooms the season. Instead, she's beaming with confidence and enlivened by the many youngsters around her.

There's been a solid turnout this week for tryouts, according to Waynesville coach Kelly Jackson, the best numbers she's seen in her six years as head coach for the Tigers.

“We're finally getting some younger girls,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we can get them for four years instead of having them come in as juniors or seniors. We're starting to develop a younger program and getting these girls out here and playing together for four years.”

They'll need to step up and handle the pressure now, though, if the team is going to have any success this year.

Thomas thinks they will.

“I think we'll be as great of a team as we have been in past years,” Thomas said. “Even though we lost six seniors, we're still strong enough to win.”

That's the type of personality Thomas has. She's a determined winner and a friendly teammate.

“Diamond is an awesome person all the way around,” Jackson said. “I never hear anything negative out of her mouth at all. It's always positive and she's a very good leader on the mound.”

And that type of positivity doesn't waver when the going gets rough.

“There can be errors made behind her and her composure never changes,” Jackson said. “She can be beating a team bad and her composure never changes. [And] she never shows any emotion to the umpires.”

Her mixture of solid character and ample skill is a winning formula.

Last year, Thomas appeared in 18 games. She pitched 111 1-3 innings with a 2.45 earned run average, 91 strikeouts, 1.060 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) and opponents hit .215 against her.

She also swung the bat well. Thomas had an average of .418, a slugging percentage of .522 and an on-base percentage of .487.

Unfortunately for Thomas and Waynesville, the season led up to a disappointing 8-2 defeat to Willard in the district championship.

Thomas takes that loss personally and shoulders more than her fair share of blame, which is why she has dedicated this summer to fine-tuning her pitches.

Jackson has noticed.

“Her pitches have come a long way, again, over the summer,” she said.

Part of that has to be attributed to her time spent playing for her summer softball team, the Missouri Rattlers, who were Amateur Softball Association 16A state champions and United States Specialty Sports Association 16A state softball champions this season.

Summer ball teams help smooth out the rough edges of players, according to Jackson.

“That's where ballplayers are made, I feel,” Jackson said. “Getting between 75 to 100 games in during a summer [is huge]. Playing competitive ball with other girls that know the game, that's where you develop your game.”

Several college coaches have seen what Thomas was able to do last year and the work she's putting in for this coming season. That has led to a few campus tour invites.

She has visited of Lindenwood University-Belleville, Washington University in St. Louis and Fontbonne University in St. Louis with more sure to come.

She laughed when she heard her father, Charles, describe her summer as a “whirlwind,” but agreed with the analogy.

“It has been crazy,” Thomas said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I kind of just want to be committed already and be done with it. Going to college visits and meeting the coaches, I feel like it's coming at me hard, but I'm really excited. I like the experience. I'm ready to go to college and play ball.”

It'll be tough, she said, knowing that there's going to be more eyes on her this fall and that could lead to more talks, visits and offers. Or worse: no more talks, visits or offers.

The expectations of a bigger and better season weighs down on her, but Thomas said she can handle it. She actually welcomes it.

“Pitching does have pressure, but it's a good type of pressure,” Thomas said. “I like controlling the game I guess.”

Which is a good thing, because the Tigers lean heavily on her. She pitched all but 24 1-3 innings Waynesville played, and that'll probably be the story again this year.

“Our whole season is going to revolve around her performance on the mound,” Jackson said. “And Diamond is going to be very strong on the mound. As long as we can keep her on the mound, and get some hits behind her, we should do just fine.”

Of course the goal is to get back to the district championship game for the third time in a row, but this time Thomas wants a different outcome, obviously.

“I really want to win districts,” she said. “We've come in second twice these past two years. Before I leave, I want to get us our first win.”