Teams size up competition as softball begins
By Bart Moss for the FCT
The Belgreen Bulldogs are looking to make the regional playoffs four years in a row. If they are going to do that, Coach Chris Scott said he knows he is going to have to rely on a bunch of young but experienced softball players to do it.
“We are looking for some big things out of our program this year,” said Scott. “We have lots of young talent coming up this year. We have some good small ball hitters that will hopefully help us score some runs.”
Emmie Scott and Katie Dempsey are the small ball specialists. They are followed by the heavy hitters Cortny Williams and Camie Terrell.
The Bulldogs will be looking for big things in the circle by returning eighth grader Emma Dempsey. Terrell will also work from the circle as well.
Scott mentioned his only senior Shellie Barber will be anchoring the infield, along with shortstop Kaycee Wilson.
Belgreen went undefeated in area play last year and lost the third game of the regionals to a tough Shoals Christian team. This year the Bulldogs will have to adjust to some new members of their area.
“We haven’t played a couple of the teams coming into our area for a few years,” said Scott. “So it will be a learning process for us and them. We are just going to play hard, execute well and try to make regionals for the fourth year in a row.”
Scott has been able to recruit some help in the dugout and on the field with new coaches Timmy Williams, Charles Hogan and Andy McAnally.
The Phil Campbell Bobcats are coming off a 21-win season last year, and Bobcat Coach Doug Jackson said he hopes his team can replicate that success this year. With no seniors, the Bobcats will rely on a bevy of youth to move this team forward.
“We are looking forward to 2017,” said Jackson. “We had 21 wins last year. We have a young team this year with no seniors.
“We are very excited to see what this team can do. This team is working hard. We are very excited about the challenges ahead.”
Last year the Red Bay Tiger softball program finished with a winning record for the first time since 2012. The Tigers also finished second in their area and made it to regionals. With a taste of success, Red Bay is ready to build on last year’s accomplishments with much of the team returning this year.
Offensively, the Tigers return five players who better than a .300 batting average in Jordyn McKinney, Lila Blackburn, Kaitlyn Robbins, Morgan Pierce and Victoria Rodriguez. McKinney led the way offensively, batting .409 last year.
“We should be better offensively,” said Red Bay Coach Steve Cox. “We only lost two starters, and we return four seniors. Kaitlin Robbins was our captain in the outfield. She graduated and will be missed.”
Rodriguez returns as the Tigers’ starting pitcher. She will anchor a solid rotation that includes seventh grader Chloe Knoblock and eighth grader Lila Blackburn.
Defensively, Pierce will anchor the left side of the infield at third base. McKinney will hold down the first base position and will play catcher also.
“Morgan has as good a glove as anyone in the county,” said Cox. “Jordyn is one of our key defensive position players. She can play just about any position we ask her to play. That is indispensable.”
Red Bay’s area will include county rival Phil Campbell, Lamar County and Sulligent.
“Our area will be a challenge,” said Cox. “We are familiar with Phil Campbell, and they are with us. We play each other a lot. However, Lamar County and Sulligent will be unknowns. I’m sure they will provide a stiff challenge.”
Cox added, “We have two tenth graders that are moving up from the JV team, Layla Bilstein and Grace Pendegraph, who we expect to give us solid innings. We have a good balance of upperclassmen (four seniors) and underclassmen (four seventh/eighth graders).”
The Tharptown Wildcats will have to nurture some young and experienced players this year, but fortunately there are some very experienced players in some key spots on the field to help bring the young players along.
Tharptown will return two seniors in key spots: Kaylee Bain in centerfield and Klaudia Harris at the catcher position. Both spots are key defensive positions that can help steady a growing team throughout the year.
“We will have a lot of new faces in the field this year,” said Tharptown Coach Tanna Benford. “We had some young girls get some experience last year that we will be looking to step up and take hold of a position. Having Klaudia back behind the plate will help with having a couple of young pitchers. She’s good at calming them down when things get a little wild during a game and seems to always make plays behind the plate when we need one.
“Having Kaylee Bain back in center is going to help a lot too. She can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. She’ll probably be surrounded by a couple of 9th graders.
“Having those two seniors out there is comforting, knowing I have a leader in the infield and the outfield.”
Bain and Harris, both batting above .400 last year, will provide some offensive stability as well while the Wildcats find replacements for top hitters Kaitlyn Vandiver and Haley Malone, both lost to graduation.
“Losing the bats of Haley Malone and Kaitlyn Vandiver will be tough to replace,” said Benford. “We’ll have to have some younger girls step up in their place.”
Vandiver was also the team’s starting pitcher, and Malone anchored the left side of the infield playing third base and shortstop.
The pitching role will fall to ninth grader Olivia Ergle.
“Olivia is back after getting some quality experience as an eighth grader on varsity last year,” said Benford. “She’s more than capable of stepping up and being our ace this year. Seventh grader Taylor Cameron will get a lot of opportunities also.”
Tharptown also returns starters Shaylee Wieting (SS/2B) and Ameliah Dawson (1B).
The Wildcats will face new area competition this year after the school dropped from 2A to 1A. While the Lady Wildcats will face some familiar foes, they will have to learn a little more about the new teams.
“We played Belgreen several times last year, so we’re pretty familiar with them,” said Benford. “We split with them. We haven’t played Vina, Hackleburg and Phillips the last couple of years since we moved up to 2A. Hackleburg went to regionals last year and still has the same pitcher they had when we were in the same area a couple of years ago when we split with them. I know they’ll be competitive. Phillips has gotten a lot better the last couple of years … We didn’t play Vina, but I saw them play during the county tournament last year. I don’t know what they lost, but I know Richie will have them competing in every game.
“We’ll be young in some areas and will need some of those young girls to step up. I feel like if we play up to our ability, we should have a very successful year.”
The Lady Wildcats started their season off in a tough tournament at Lynn High School. They faced stiff competition in Curry, Carbon Hill, Corner, Lynn and Cordova to ready themselves for the upcoming season.
Curry beat the Wildcats 5-2. Cara Ergle had two hits. Kaylee Bain, Shaylee Wieting and Klaudia Harris had one hit each.
Bain got the lone hit in a 5-0 loss to Carbon Hill.
Tharptown was tied 1-1 in the third inning against Corner. Harris, the team’s senior catcher, came up with an injury and had to leave the game. She would be out of action for the rest of the tournament. Things fell apart after that with players having to be shifted to places they weren’t used to.
The Wildcats’ lone win in the tournament was a 5-1 victory over the host team Lynn. Brooke Daily hit a grand slam home run, and Taylor Cameron added two hits.
Shaylee Wieting had two hits in a loss to Cordova.
Richie Hester hopes that the success his team had in winning basketball games this year can be parlayed into winning softball games. Many of the same players who were key contributors on the court will be on the diamond as well.
“This is a young team that has a lot of potential and a good attitude,” said Hester. “We need to stay healthy and have a good year from our returning starters. Anything is possible. A lot of these girls played on the varsity girls basketball team that won 22 games this season. So, their expectations are high.”
The Red Devils won 11 games last year, and Hester said he hopes to win more this year with seven of nine starters returning from last year’s team.
“Our offense improved last year,” said Hester. “We should be better this year. The new players are beginning to understand our aggressive style of play on the bases.”
Abby Hester led the way on the bases last year and has nabbed 210 stolen bases in her varsity career, including 48 last year. She also batted .460 with seven doubles and three triples, 29 runs batted in and 51 runs scored.
All-Area pitcher Erica Cantrell (.471 ERA on the mound and 26 RBIs, 27 runs scored at the plate) returns to the circle this year for the Red Devils. She will be relieved by freshman Kaitlyn King (eight doubles, 28 RBIs, ten stolen bases, 21 runs scored).
“Erica’s expectations are high this year,” said Hester. “She will go a long way toward helping us succeed.”
Returning on defense for the Red Devils is all-state catcher Hester, all-area first baseman King, shortstop Brooke Brown and centerfielder Sarah Johnson.
Look for some big contributions from third baseman Ashleigh Thompson (14 RBIs and 14 runs scored), second baseman Bailey Hutcheson and Maddie Raper, outfielders Gracie Raper and Anna Belle Upton (five doubles, 23 RBIs and 15 runs scored). Newcomers to watch are Hailey Cantrell, Hanna Letson, Destiny Keith, Hannah Johnson, Lacey Scott and Destiny Miller.