Last spring was an unforgettable season for high school softball. Patrick Henry fought into extra innings before losing the state championship to Cosby, the same team that beat them for the Central Region crown a week before. Lee-Davis, the 2011 state champions, endured the loss of a legendary pitcher and rode a freshman and an experienced lineup to the region quarterfinals. They, too, were eliminated by Cosby.
Atlee fell two outs short of winning the Capital District title, getting revenge with a win over Lee-Davis in the district tournament championship. And Hanover? They’re the only team that owned victories over Cosby, Patrick Henry, Atlee, and Lee-Davis in the 2012 season.
Who’s ready for an encore?
Patrick Henry High School (27-3, Central Region and State Group AAA Runners-Up in 2012): It’s a new era in Ashland, as long-time softball coach Matthew Crowder has moved to the front office, in his first year as activities director. Enter Shelby Webb, co-chair of the Physical Education Department at Caroline Middle School. Webb will benefit from the experience of legendary assistants Walter Pettus and Jerry Shelton.
The first order of business is to replace the State Group AAA Player of the Year, pitcher Emma Mitchell, now at the University of Virginia. Candace Whittemore, who saw just a few innings of work last year, will be handed the ball full-time.
Who will catch her is another question, as long-time backstop star Madison Gilman (along with former first baseman Katie Woody) plays at Randolph-Macon. Junior Ashley Samuels, who played second base last season, may convert full-time to catcher or may see time at both positions.
The infield corners need replacing with the departure of Woody and Sam Moore. Senior Hunter Glave, primarily a designated hitter last season, takes over at first. Third base is undecided.
There’s no doubt, though, who will anchor the infield, as well as the defense. Paige Mitchell had a phenomenal freshman season at shortstop and returns a year wiser, a year more athletic, and ready to become a leader for the Patriots.
She’ll find two familiar faces behind her in the outfield as Ellen Davidson and Kendall Thomas return. Webb has yet to announce who will step into the third outfield position.
New faces to watch include sophomores Briana Woody, Taylor Prokopis, Alex Reed, juniors Anna Wells, Abby Clement and Christy Hall, and freshman Madison Seay.
Webb is well aware the offense will need to start strong and stay strong, that a “dominant force” on the mound the likes of Emma Mitchell won’t suit up for the Patriots this year.
“Beyond generating a big, consistent offense and supporting our pitcher on defense, the key for us this year is playing with confidence and unity,” Webb noted. “We lost a large chunk of our team, but we have a very talented group returning, plus those newly added. Our core group has done a phenomenal job thus far of leading, modeling hard work and dedication for our new additions.”
With Samuels, Mitchell, Davidson, Thomas, Glave and Whittemore veterans of June softball, there is reason to believe Patrick Henry can, again, compete for the Colonial District title. Mills Godwin and Deep Run will stand in their way. For the Patriots, it will all begin with the guidance and direction of their new coach.
Lee-Davis High School (19-5, Capital District Champion in 2012): Coming off their 2011 state title, 2012 was the year of distractions for the Confederates. An arm injury ended Kelly Heinz’s hopes of pitching her team to back-to-back state titles. Head coach Jackie Davis lost her father when he passed away just before the season began, causing game postponements.
Through it all, the veteran team stuck together, believed in a little-known freshman who took to the circle, and fell just a game short of a return trip to the state tournament.
Now, with Heinz hurling at Virginia Tech, it’s Lauren McIntyre’s circle. The now-sophomore will deal her nasty combination of pitches with long-time friend, senior catcher Haleigh Cottrell behind the plate.
Cottrell is one of several key returnees in the Lee-Davis lineup. Senior first baseman Amy Wingfield returns and will be counted on at the heart of the offensive lineup. Ryleigh Hawker is back at shortstop in this, her junior year. The Confederates will have to name new starters at second and third with the departures of Taylor Deemer and Lacie Madison.
Becca Hicks, a junior, returns to the outfield, where she could be joined by Victoria Houff or Becca Fields, and this doesn’t even mention the new members of the team coming up from junior varsity.
A key utility player last season returns in the form of junior infielder/pinch runner Kinsee Stonebreaker.
McIntyre showed poise and performance far beyond her years in a difficult situation in 2012. The Confederates may only need two or three runs to win many games.
Atlee High School (18-6, Capital District Tournament Champion In 2012): Perhaps the best pitcher in not only the county, but in the Central Region, will don a Raider uniform for her senior season.
Her name is Jessica Holte, and the lefty leads an impressive group of seven returning starters. With Atlee, too, falling a game short of the state playoffs last year, Holte and her cohorts have all the motivation they need.
She’ll find a familiar face behind the plate as Cameron Hall begins her junior year at catcher. In the infield, junior Delani Ferrar gets the nod at first. Taylor Sutherland returns at shortstop, playing next to newcomer Raine Wilson at third.
Shelby Hill and Mattie Fitzgerald return to fill out two-thirds of the Atlee outfield. The positions still up for grabs in the week before opening day are second base and left field.
The team has more than just the seven returning starters as both Annamarie Warley and Blair Jones saw playing time in 2012. Look for contributions from new faces Malorie Fodill, Riley Satterwhite, and Coral Throckmorton.
“We will have to play solid defense behind our pitching,” Atlee head coach John Earley said. “We have plenty of experience up the middle and should be tough on the corners. Jessica will help keep us in games.”
That is an understatement. You won’t find a cooler cucumber when the game is on the line than Holte, and she may be the top impact player amongst the county schools in 2013.
Hanover High School (13-7 in 2012): Though disappointed in not clinching a Central Region tournament berth, a look back at the Hawks’ accomplishments in 2012 mentioned earlier are truly impressive. There are some deep holes to fill, especially on offense and in the outfield, but Hanover’s 2013 edition can build their foundation from the starting circle out, with not one, but two aces to call upon.
Shannon Albright, who signed in February to play college softball for a new program at Georgia Highlands College, returns for her senior season. Her junior campaign was cut short due to injuries suffered in an auto accident over spring break.
To respond, head coach Brian Letourneau handed the ball to Kiandra Mitchum, who responded with several big victories, none bigger than her 152-pitch complete game, 3-2 win over Patrick Henry. The Hawks are more than set in the rotation.
Their outfield suffered the biggest graduation losses, saying goodbye to Erica Barrett and Brooke Throckmorton, the latter now starring at Bridgewater College. Jessica McLaughlin takes over in right, while Mitchum will see some time in center when not pitching. Returnee Abby Chenault and freshman Mackenzie Wyatt could see significant time in the outfield.
Around the bases there are also changes. Lacey Sullivan, who played well when called up from JV last season to replace Albright at first when Mitchum moved to pitcher, will head to third base. Emily Burton may see time at the hot corner, too, and is a solid designated player option for the Hawks. Albright will man shortstop when not pitching, pairing with returning sophomore Eryn King at second.
A name to remember is Kaylyn Shepherd, a freshman slated to play first base on opening day. Finally, the most underrated Hawk could be their starting catcher, Maura Long. Long, a junior, deftly handles the work of both Albright and Mitchum, and will be a centering force mentally for this team. Their schedule demands a tough mentality.
“Our district [Capital] is tough, as is our non-district schedule,” Letourneau said. “We need to play well and hard night in and night out.”
Why will Hanover miss Barrett and Throckmorton so much?
“We have to replace their offensive production at the top of the order. Mitchum and Albright, especially, will need to fill those holes,” Letourneau pointed out, adding he needs more consistency on offense from the 4-5-6 spots in the lineup, an area of inconsistency and disappointment at key times last season.
The defensive newcomers will need to excise the jitters early, the team will need to come together as a unit, but the cornerstone of the 2013 Hanover Hawks is, no doubt, their pitching.
Upcoming Games: The Cosby/Patrick Henry scrimmage, the rematch of last year’s regional and state title games, is now set for Friday at 5 p.m. at Patrick Henry. The Patriots begin the regular season March 14 at home to Maggie Walker Governor’s School. Hanover must face Cosby in their opener in Chesterfield that day, while Lee-Davis travels to Deep Run to start the season. The only team not to debut March 14 is Atlee, who begins play two days earlier, March 12, when they travel to Clover Hill for a 5 p.m. start.