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Happy Valley softball team undergoes big turnaround

Douglas Fritz • Apr 18, 2014 at 6:48 PM

It could be said Happy Valley’s softball program was at rock bottom when coach Mike Dorsey took over.

After all, 20-105 record over a five-season stretch gave a strong indication of where things stood.

Taking over in 2010, Dorsey coached the team to competitiveness in 2012. And after a rebuild last year, the Lady Warriors improved to 13-6 by beating Heritage 9-4 on Friday in the first game of a tough weekend tournament in Maryville.

Even better, the Warriors are 6-3 in the Three Rivers Conference. One of the losses was a one-run setback against Sullivan East and another was a 5-3 10-inning decision against Elizabethton.

A former middle school coach, Dorsey said he saw the talent headed for the high school program and figured the Lady Warriors would eventually get things turned around.

“I had most of them, so I knew what they were capable of doing,” said Dorsey. “It was a matter of getting them high-school seasoned.”

This year has been better because the Warriors have a little more balance at the top of the program.

“For the first time, I’ve got senior leaders,” said Dorsey. “These girls play together as a team really well. We’ve got tough outs, one through nine, in the lineup. And we’ve avoided injuries, knock on wood.”

One step Dorsey said the Lady Warriors haven’t taken is being able to look squarely in the eyes of a program like Unicoi County, and believe they can win. A 12-0 decision last week was Happy Valley’s only true blowout loss of the season.

“They’ve competed well in every game they’ve played, except Unicoi of course,” said Dorsey. “The Unicoi game, I couldn’t tell you what happened. Confidence is the key.”

Happy Valley will get another chance to break through next week. After a doubleheader Monday against University High, and then a Three Rivers Conference game versus Sullivan North on Tuesday, the Lady Warriors play host to Unicoi on Wednesday and travel to Elizabethton on Thursday.

“I feel like we’re capable of winning them all,” said Dorsey. “Most of it is mental because they haven’t done well in the past. We have to get over that. The Elizabethton game helped that because we battled to the end. I hope we solidify that thought in Maryville.”

Dorsey said he chose the Maryville tournament because the event allows seven-inning games with one-hour, 50-minute time limits. Happy Valley is 11-3 in games not shortened by tournament time limits.

“For some reason this team doesn’t start hitting until the third inning, so the short games have been a handicap for us,” he said.

Dorsey’s team has embarked on a grueling schedule of games. From Friday through next Sunday, Happy Valley will play every day except one — with three doubleheaders and whatever games come up in the Tiny Day tournament in Greeneville. If Happy Valley succeeds through the challenge, it will likely be because of one thing, said Dorsey.

“Defense, defense, defense,” he said of the team’s main strength. “When you play Elizabethton and they strand 17 runners, you had to play good defense.”

Leading the way in the circle for the Lady Warriors have been Kalee Johnson, Brooke Simmons and Krisley Roberts.

“KJ is still up and down,” said Dorsey. “If she throws strikes, she’s hard to hit. I haven’t clocked her, but they said this summer she hit 61 mph.”

At the plate, Roberts is hitting over .400 from the leadoff position while Kenzie Davis is doing likewise from the clean-up spot.

“We’ve just been trying to emphasize winning every inning,” said Dorsey. “It seems like we get one or two runs every inning. We rarely have a big inning.”

Other keys to this point in the season have been center fielder Kaylee Street, left fielder Sydney Puckett and third baseman Emily Whitaker.

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