Bringing the Heat
2018 Softball Outlook: Area teams feature individual talent
By Malcolm Shields
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Five of the six area schools earned bids to the 2017 North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs in softball last spring.
The majority of those teams return the core players from those playoff teams this spring as the 2018 campaign began on Wednesday.
In the new Albemarle Athletic Conference, longtime rivals Camden and Perquimans will be joined by John A. Holmes, which dropped down from Class 2A to 1A for the current four-year conference cycle.
The Albemarle Athletic Conference will also comprise of Plymouth, Manteo and Gates.
The Lady Pirates and Lady Bruins return seasoned veterans that will try to capture the AAC title this spring.
Although Currituck lost some key players from last season, the Lady Knights, along with Bertie are early season favorites to capture the league crown in the Northeastern Coastal Conference and possibly make a run in the Class 2A state playoffs in May.
A young Northeastern team will be in contention for another trip to the state playoffs.
Here is more on area softball teams:
Coach: Charles Nash
Last season’s record: (21-4-1, 15-1 Coastal 10 Conference)
Outlook: The Lady Bruins return senior shortstop Morgan Nash for the 2018 campaign.
Morgan, who was named the Coastal 10 Conference Player of the Year, is joined by fellow seniors Cailey Byrum at first base and Kayla Russell at third base.
Byrum and Russell will be key contributors defensively in the infield.
All three had a solid start to the season at the plate against Pasquotank on Wednesday as the Lady Bruins defeated Pasquotank 19-3 in five inning.
Briana Bratton is expected to have an impact in the outfield for the Lady Bruins this season.
After a standout freshman season, Hailey Bunting, now a sophomore, will be the go-to pitcher for Camden in the circle this season.
She will be joined in sharing the pitching load with Nicole Villardi.
Kaiyah Dooley, a junior, will play a role with the team this season.
Coach Nash noted that senior leadership along with great defense, solid hitting and pitching will be the strengths for Camden this season.
Although Camden returns eight starters from last season, Camden will have depth as six freshmen will be expected to contribute this season.
That includes Skylar Hyatt, Madison Pait, Carleigh Simmons, Lexi Jones, Lily Brewton and Taniya Swinson.
Coach Nash noted that the freshmen will have to step up this season.
Coach: Karen Booker
Last season’s record: (11-7, 9-3 Northeastern Coastal Conference)
Outlook: The Lady Knights will have to replace the offensive production of former All-Area and all-conference performers Jesse Wilson and Lindsey Lykins.
Wilson is now a member of the Appalachian State University softball team.
Booker noted that the team will have to keep scores low this season.
Morgan Barclay and Layla Cartwright will be the pitchers tasked to keep opposing batters off balanced this season.
Barclay and Cartwright were both selected as Northeastern Coastal Conference all-conference performers last spring.
Offensively, Morgan Owens and Shelby Pippin both hit over .500 last season and will be key this season.
Pippin was one of the bright spots offensively in Currituck’s 10-0 season-opening loss at D.H. Conley on Wednesday in Greenville.
Pippin went 2-for-3.
Owens is the top returning offensive player. Last season, Owens had 24 RBIs.
Outfielder Lauren Gerni will also be expected to drive in runs this season as the senior posted a .404 average with 19 RBIs last spring as a junior.
Jessica Smith, who is set to play third base in her senior season, will set the table for the lineup. Smith led the Lady Knights last season with 35 runs scored.
Faith Hughes, Karrigan Belangia, Kylee Schojan and Ashlyn Richards are expected to see time in the lineup.
Macey Carroll, who posted a solid .483 batting average last season, along with Michelle Mixon are expected to help the Lady Knight this season.
Currituck will be tested this season with remaining non-conference games against Camden, Hickory (Va.) and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy (Va.).
Hickory and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy won 20 games or more last season.
JOHN A. HOLMES
Coach: J.P. Pippins
Last season’s record: (16-10, 10-2 Northeastern Coastal Conference)
Outlook: The Lady Aces had a breakout season last spring as they won a share of the NCC championship with Bertie, beat the Lady Falcons in a tiebreaker game and won a state playoff game for the first time in seven seasons.
Edenton will have to replace last season’s senior leadership and production of Meredith Mize, Alexis Oliver, Roslyn Bunch and Alanna Parks this spring.
Pippins noted that the team will be young and inexperienced in some key positions.
Some of those young players that earned playing time last season include designated hitter Jhasi Gilliam.
Gilliam had a strong start to the 2018 season on Wednesday as she went 4-for-5 with an RBI in a 9-8 loss to Bear Grass Charter in eight innings.
Gilliam, who is a sophomore this season, will see time at third base.
Charity Stallings and Maggie Bunch are expected to contribute as pitchers this season.
During her freshman season, Bunch earned playing time in the field and in the circle, while Stallings pitched over 70 innings last season.
Kristen Williams, Kinlee Chappell, Sharon Jackson, Ashlyn Leary, Brianna Griffin and Jaycee Pierce will be in the lineup this season.
Alli Dougherty, Alexus Chapin and Holly Rome should help this season.
Pippins noted that the team will be tested with a difficult non-conference and league schedule.
Edenton faces Northeastern, Bertie, Williamston-Riverside and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in out of league games.
Conference games against Camden and Perquimans will also be tests for the Lady Aces.
The Edenton coach noted that if the team comes to practice and does what it is suppose to do and carries that into games, the team will be fine.
Coach: Chad Thomas
Last season’s record: (8-8, 7-5 Northeastern Coastal Conference)
Outlook: The Lady Eagles return six starters from last season’s team that advanced to the 2A state playoffs.
Taylor Thomas, a senior, was selected as an all-conference performer last season, will once again be behind the plate for NHS this season.
The starting battery will be set by sophomore pitcher Ashley Fowler.
Fowler had a solid freshman season as she led the team in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.
Eryn Meads also logged time in the circle last season.
Love Ott, and Alyson Stephenson were both starters last season.
Coach Thomas noted that Ott, Stephenson and Taylor Thomas will provide key leadership.
NHS has a fairly young roster.
Millicent Ott, Dyamond Lyles, Madison Wooten and Cameron Miller are some of the underclass players expected to make an impact this spring.
Coach Thomas, who takes over the program from Rachel Erickson, noted that he is looking forward to spending the season with a hard-working group of ball players.
Coach: Ray Burnham
Last season’s record: (0-12, 0-12 Northeastern Coastal Conference)
Outlook: The Lady Panthers return six starters from the 2017 season.
Pasquotank will rely on junior Bree Norman in the circle and at the plate.
Last spring as a sophomore, Norman posted a .581 batting average.
Kim Meads, Maggie Davis, Michaela Worthington, Lyric Forman, Shiann Nelms, Ashlyn Bailey, Jaelin Hudyma and Page Coker are expected to be in the lineup.
Freshmen Colby West and Hanna Harris are expected to contribute this season.
Burnham noted that senior leadership is a strength and confidence will be key to the season.
Coach: Ricky Stallings
Last season’s record: (23-3, 15-1 Coastal 10 Conference)
Outlook: Expectations are high for the Lady Pirates this season.
Perquimans returns seven starters from last season’s team that advanced to the third round of the 1A state playoffs.
All-Area and all-conference pitcher Kaitlyn Christian and All-Area and all-conference catcher McCrae Knapp will comprise the starting battery for the Lady Pirates.
At the plate, both will be key offensive players along with Megan Denson.
Denson will also pitch this spring.
Jessica Brown, a senior, had a strong start to the season with a double and three RBIs in the Lady Pirates 10-9 win against Northeastern on Wednesday.
Alli Copeland, Aly Vanscoy, Abby Todd and McKayle Knapp are returning underclass players.
Freshmen Faith Christian, Summer Christian, Maci Denson, Carly Elliott and Asha Elliott should contribute this season.
Stallings noted that the team has a lot of good hitters and Perquimans should be solid in all positions in the field.
If the Lady Pirates can avoid injuries, Stallings noted the club should contend for the Albemarle Athletic Conference championship and could vie for a state championship in Class 1A.