JC’s sophomore Hannah Fritz pitches during practice. Hannah and fellow sophomore Autumn Lewis are expected to handle a lot of the Longhorns’ pitching. Photo by Joey Icenhour
By Tim Chambers
Nobody knew if it would ever get here, but spring softball is about to kick off once again for high school athletes in Johnson County on Tuesday. The local sports prognosticators have tabbed Sullivan East at the top team, followed by Elizabethton and Unicoi County, with Johnson County closely behind. Sullivan East almost made it to the state in 2019 but was defeated by Johnson County last year in the season’s second game before the shutdown. All that must be forgotten due to new teams, new players, and such.
The Patriots return a trio of pitchers and are rumored to go four or five deep in the rotation. Jillian Shackelford, Lexie McDuffie, and Hannah Scott are a trio of pitchers that will make East the favorite to win the league. The three can also knock the cover off the softball. Cayden Bawgus is another senior that will play shortstop along with classmate Kinzie Brow at third and Emma Timb at second base, all seniors. Most of the Lady Patriots were on the team that Johnson County defeated last year, so revenge will be on their minds this season. They will be coached by Michael Forrester, who said six of these years’ starters were starters on their sub-state team.
You cannot say Three Rivers Conference softball without saying the name Kenny Hardin, Elizabethton’s head coach. The Cyclones will be good again, with team speed and versatility being their strong suits.The pitching staff looks good with Madisun Pritchard and Maddie O’Quinn. Mollie Johnson, a freshman speedster, is a slap hitter that can open eyes. Others that can hit the cover off are Emma Johnson, O’Quinn, Kalista Deprimo, and freshman Emma O’Quinn. Elizabethton is fast and could have their best talent ever in the lower grades. Johnson can play all nine positions.
There was a time when Unicoi was the danger zone for Three Rivers softball teams to travel, and they are still pretty good when junior lefty Hannah Shelton is on the mound. Basketball fans will remember the name Caroline Podvin, their top hitter and hardwood teammate, Leah Edney. Kerstin Buchanan will handle the catching chores. Look for Samantha Chavez to be one of the league’s top hitters. Longtime skipper Grady Lingerfeld is back in the third-base box again for another season.
The Lady Warriors and Johnson County could have the two best players in the league. JC’s Emmy Miller (catcher) and HV’s Olivia Absher (shortstop) can definitely play at the next level. Miller’s teammate Maddi Edington can flash the leather at shortstop, with Hannah Fritts being the top sophomore in the Horns’ league. The Lady Warriors will be coached by Cody Hyder, who starred on the baseball diamond at Milligan College. Absher can knock the skin off the ball. Abby Holt, Teagan Ray, and Allie Grindstaff will help lead the way. Coach Hyder said his team is made up of mostly juniors or seniors.
South’s last stand will include Madison Chapman and Bradley Warner as their top players. McKenzie Wallen and Olivia Delung, along with Emma Jones at third, will definitely help a young South squad. Chris Sturgill will coach the team.
The Cougars are in the same boat as South. They, too, are closing at the year’s end and hope to make memories. Their pitchers include Camille Nottingham (RH, Fr.), Jasmine Sheffield (RH, Sr.), Lauren Lane (RH, Fr.). Their hitting is led by Rachel White (1B/3B, Jr.), Katie Horne (CF, Sr.), Averey Cross (3B, Fr.). Andrea Werner will coach them.