When talking about softball in the Three Rivers Conference, the conversation often starts with Unicoi County.
The Lady Blue Devils have been to the state tournament four straight years, and won the Class AA championship in 2009.
Yes, they graduated all-time winningest pitcher Kara Woods, but Unicoi is still a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
After Unicoi, it could be a mad scramble for the No. 2 spot. Elizabethton has been there for quite some time, but Happy Valley thumped the Lady Cyclones 11-3 earlier this week. And Sullivan East played a 2-0 game against Unicoi on Tuesday.
Johnson County will have to battle to get in the mix while Sullivan North will once again have to scratch and claw for any league victory.
The Blue Devils will hand the ball to junior Kacy Silvers, who has been waiting for this opportunity.
“She does a good job,” said Blue Devils’ head coach Grady Lingerfelt. “She’s had a few too many walks, but she has pitched OK. She had 11 strikeouts against Daniel Boone and 13 against Sullivan East.”
Also expected to see some time in the circle are sophomore Kaylee Nicholson and freshman Tiffany Laughren.
At the plate, Lingerfelt said he is counting on good performances from several hitters, including juniors Chelsey Gardner (1B, OF) and Shea Pearson (LF, 1B). Also in the hitting mix are juniors Jessica Presser (SS), Ashley Starnes (C), Cheyenne Delffs (OF) and Bethany Gibson (3B).
“Eventually we will hit, but we only got two hits off Sullivan East,” said Lingerfelt. “Our bats are a little behind our defense right now.”
Other players expected to make some key contributions in the lineup are Laughren along with sophomores Brooke Strother and Grayson Goddard.
“Laughren hustles as good as anybody,” said Lingerfelt.
First-year head coach Leanna Click said she thinks her team is on a good track.
“Disregard the Happy Valley game, and I think we will be fine,” she said. “We have good hitting, good defense, and Lindsey is an amazing pitcher.”
Lindsey Cunningham, a sophomore, will get the majority of the work in the circle. Other expected to throw some are juniors Emily Thorton and Reazyn DeMoss, and freshman Macy Elliott.
At the plate, Click said she will rely on DeMoss (SS), Caley Hodge (So., C), Cunningham, and Ashleigh Dykes (Jr., CF).
Other key players include seniors Casey Jones (LF), Emily Carr (RF) and Abby Stephenson (1B).
Click said she also expects contributions from Summer Reece (So., 3B), Sophie Bremer (Jr., 2B), Danielle Loving (So., U) and Emily Dugger (Jr., OF).
“I feel confident we can pick it up and show what we’re capable of,” said Click.
The Lady Warriors’ program appears to be on the upswing.
“I definitely think we are in the top three or top two at least,” said head coach Mike Dorsey.
However, they can’t have injuries. Depth is not a strong point, said Dorsey.
Brittany Morefield, a junior, is the top pitcher.
“She’s not going to dominate, but pitches to contact,” said Dorsey. “All we have to do is field behind her.”
Sophomore Brooke Simmons will also see time in the circle.
Among the top hitters are sophomore right fielder Allison Williams, Kiara Coffey (C), Simmons (1B) and Morefield. Other key players include Kaylee Street (Fr., CF) and Jessa Dugger (Jr., LF).
Dorsey said the win over Elizabethton was a boost.
“I think they knew they could win, but they weren’t sure,” said Dorsey. “(Wednesday’s) practice was over the top. They were loose, but serious.”
The Patriots will rally around the performances of Angel Trent and Casey Williams, who were each all-conference selections for the past two seasons.
Trent is East’s main pitcher while Williams is the team’s center fielder.
Head coach Tommy Forrester said he will also count on junior catcher Brittany Scott, who is the team’s leadoff hitter, and sophomore third baseman Courtney Leonard.
When Trent isn’t in the circle, Leonard will spend some time there.
Youth rules for the Longhorns with three freshmen — Cindi Edington, Hope Nelson and Demi Blevins — taking care of business in the circle.
“It’s just going to take playing time and being in pressure games,” said head coach Dana Smith. “We’ve only played four games.”
There is more experience at the plate with Eden Smith leading the way. The senior starts in center field for the Longhorns.
Other key contributors at the plate are Haley Miller (Jr., 3B), Ashley Arnold (Jr., 2B) and Hollie Harrison (Sr., RF).
“I think we will surprise a few people,” said Smith. “We’re pretty strong mentally already. We’ve got seven freshmen and three sophomores, and they’re doing well.”