62nd District softball lookahead (61st District roundup): Raiders look for a return to the top

Apr. 3—East Carter returns its entire club from last year as it attempts to win a third straight 62nd District crown and 12th in the last 13 seasons.

West Carter's young team brings in new faces that have aided in the upward trend in its program.

Elliott County and Morgan County would love to see a new team at the top of the standings.

EAST CARTEREast Carter coach Derek Calhoun can put an experienced group on the field this season and hopes another year of growth could lead to bigger results in 2024.

The Raiders won their first five games, including three district-seeding victories, before spring break by a combined score of 79-6. East Carter did not play past the fifth inning during the opening stretch.

"When you can bring all nine starters back and still only have one senior," Calhoun said, "we're still going to have to fight through some growing pains. They have a year of experience under their belt and now they know what to expect. They can adjust to the different types of teams we play. Last year, we had five first-year kids who had never started a varsity game."

"You don't have that deer in the headlight look," he added. "They are zoned in and focused. We have one senior, Lydia Combs, and four juniors who are going to take on the leadership role. We kind of addressed that with them last year and they will build upon that this year."

Calhoun said his older players continue to give back to the younger and future players in the program, working to build a solid foundation for years to come.

Defense has been a focal point in offseason preparation and Stephany Tussey can limit an opponent's offensive opportunities in the circle. Payton Rice and Laken Knipp form a solid rotation along with Tussey. The trio have a combined for 33 strikeouts through the first four games.

"Stephany is a very hard worker," Calhoun said. "Even when she's playing defense for us, you'll get everything she has. She changes speeds and has a lot of movement on her pitches. She can keep a lot of these big-hitting teams off balanced with her offspeed stuff. It's good to have Trina Porter and Emily Felty behind the plate as catchers. They're both growing and getting better."

Calhoun remarked about his team's versatility and has already put his players and different spots on the field.

Hayleigh Hall has excelled as an infield defender. Rice has played at "every position on the field except catcher," according to her coach. Emily Biddle, Allison Felty, and Jenna Goble will play on the infield.

Abby Boggs, Adriana Cordle, Katie Brown, Kaidence Ramey, Tussey and Knipp commandeer the outfield positions. Calhoun has seen improvement from all his players during the offseason.

"We really like our nucleus of players," Calhoun said. "We have a good mixture of youth and experience. After our games, we talk about stuff we did wrong and right. We are building for May and the postseason. We want to get better every game and every practice."

WEST CARTERWest Carter coach Zach Stevens has plenty of excitement surrounding his program and his numbers keep growing as more players want to be a part of the team.

"My assistant coach, Chris Rose, is like a head coach and he's worked with the girls all summer," Stevens said. "We have juniors that had never come out for softball. Emilee Barker had a tying hit against Fairview and has recorded big hits for us already. You can't tell that she had only played six games of softball. Girls from other sports already have that work ethic engrained in them and take to instruction well."

The Comets have increased their win total during Stevens's tenure. West Carter won two games in 2021 but recorded 16 victories last year.

The skipper believes plenty of field time in March can prepare his team and supply them with experience for the stretch run. The Comets have 10 games under their belt heading into spring break.

"Chris and I have talked about it and offense is probably the last thing that comes around for us," Stevens said. "We've always loaded up that schedule in March. You're practicing for a month before that and it's good to get out and actually play some games. You get that team bonding going on and you figure out a lot about your team."

"You can make some adjustments heading into the middle of your schedule," he added. "I think we've been much better at the end of the season. We had some turnover with our roster here and there. All games matter but it's more about getting better toward the end. That's what we want to do."

Alyssa Willis and Ava Reynolds occupy the circle for West Carter. Stevens feels each pitcher has their strengths and can give an opponent a different look. Willis has seven starts and 51 strikeouts.

"Alyssa Willis pitched a lot of games for us last year," Stevens said. "She's a girl that can go out and get a strikeout if you need it. She brings a lot of confidence coming into any game. You know that she's going to throw strikes, pitch to content and allow our defense to make a play. Ava got her first varsity win earlier this year. She pitched all of our JV games last year and has put a lot of work in."

Stevens calls Claire Holbrook his coach on the field. She will play catcher. The Comets have two freshmen up the middle with Karsyn Rose and Kali Caldwell. They have played a ton of softball together and are a good double-play combo, according to their coach.

Sarah Reffitt can play at the corners in the infield. Kristen King, Jasmine McCleese, Kenlie Nolan and Barker are all solid outfielders. Josie Nolan, Kirah Spillman will play important roles on the team. Stevens said it's a team effort and gets as my players on the field as possible.

ELLIOTT COUNTYThe Lions are the only district champion other than East Carter since 2012. Elliott County is 2-1 in early 62nd District seeding games.

The Lions bring back Hanah McDaniel, who leads the team in hitting with a .567 average and 16 RBIs through the team's first 10 games. Bailee Artripp sports a .387 average. Claire Whitley has posted 10 RBIs and is hitting .323. She also has a 5-2 record in the circle with 62 strikeouts.

MORGAN COUNTYThe Cougars handed the reins to new coach Jeanie Swiney in the offseason and have dropped their first six games. Morgan County has not reported statistics to the KHSAA website.

61st DISTRICTROWAN COUNTYBehind a Miss Basketball, an All-Area Player of the Year and a solid lineup, the Vikings advanced to the state semifinals last spring before falling to defending and eventual state champion Ballard.

Haven Ford has departed for the basketball court at Murray State and Rowan County said goodbye to veteran coach and the program's founder Larry Slone after 30 seasons.

The Vikings remain a region contender after their historic 2023 campaign under first-year coach Kaitlyn Muncy. Rowan County started a strong slate 8-2 before spring break.

The Vikings have seven players batting over .300, led by Diamond Wills (.385) and Lauryn Eastham (.351, 16 RBIs). Trinity Lambert and Kassi Perkins are back in the circle and have combined for 78 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA.

BATH COUNTYBath County posted 25 wins last year but didn't advance to the 16th Region Tournament for the first time since 2017. The Wildcats already sport an impressive total after winning 14 of their first 17 games.

Ashtyn Barrett (.515) and Taylor Hodson (.575) are batting over .500. Kylee Hodson has 10 starts along with an 8-2 record and a .255 ERA.

FLEMING COUNTYThe Panthers are 3-2 to open the 2024 slate under second-year coach Joshua Stamm. Fleming County brings back top hitters, Sadie and Mallory Price and Ariana Adams. Char Parker returns to the circle after seven wins last year. The Panthers have not reported stats to the KHSAA.

MENIFEE COUNTYMenifee County has already matched its win total from last season and looks to two returners, Gracie Rogers and Addisyn Reed, to guide the Wildcats this season.

Rogers currently bats .600 and has scored 15 runs. Reed follows with a .474 average.