By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School varsity softball team is ready to make a run at another state tournament berth.
Coming off a season where they lost in the substate round – a victory away from qualifying for the state – head coach Grady Lingerfelt’s Lady Devils return depth and power for the 2017 season.
“We have a good player at every position,” Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record. “I think we have a good team, we really do.”
Prior to the start of the season, both the varsity and junior varsity squads have performed well during scrimmages, according to the head coach.
“We have had two play days and have done quite well in those,” Lingerfelt said. “The last one at Kiwanis Metro in Johnson City we played Daniel Boone and won that one. We tied Morristown East and played Tennessee High pretty well. During a play day in Bristol we won all the varsity and junior varsity games. Junior varsity has won all their games in the preseason.”
Leading the way for the Lady Devils this season will be junior pitcher Halie Padgett. Lingerfelt said Padgett has been dealing with a shoulder injury for awhile; however, she has battled to get back in the circle.
“She’s been throwing,” Lingerfelt said of Padgett. “She’s thrown in the play day games and has thrown quite well. There aren’t many 6-foot pitchers who can throw it with the accuracy she can.”
Also expected to pitch varsity innings are senior Hannah Bowen and sophomore Allee Griffith.
“Both Hannah and Allee are capable of winning,” Lingerfelt said.
After missing the 2016 season due to injury, senior Keelie Hall returns to catch for the Lady Devils.
“She is a very good catcher,” Lingerfelt said.
Rounding out the infield are: senior and Milligan College-signee Neelee Griffith at first base; senior Ashley Edwards at second base; junior Rylee Stiltner and shortstop; and senior Savannah Lafever at third base.
“All of our infielders have experience and are very good players,” Lingerfelt said. “Neelee, Ashley, Rylee and Savannah are all solid at their positions.”
The Lady Devils’ solid defense doesn’t stop in the infield. Three athletic players – junior Tanya Chavez, sophomore Halie Hawkins and senior Faith Bailey – make up the outfield this season.
“All the outfielders have speed and can go get the ball,” Lingerfelt said. “They have accurate arms as well.
“We should be very strong defensively this season.”
Lady Devil fans can also expect a varsity squad that can score a lot of runs, according to Lingerfelt. During their play days, the majority of Lady Devils have hit at least one home run.
“We have a lot of power,” Lingerfelt said. “We are very strong offensively.”
UCHS will need both its solid offense and defense this season. In conference play, the Lady Devils will again be challenged by a good Elizabethton team.
“Elizabethton is very good, too,” Lingerfelt said. “They have about everyone back.”
The Lady Cyclones won the conference regular season last year. The Lady Devils bounced back in the postseason to win the District 1-AA title, then Elizabethton took the Region 1-AA crown. This sent the Lady Devils to Christian Academy of Knoxville where they lost in the substate round, ending the 2016 season.
“We are going to have to come ready to play every game,” Lingerfelt said of the 2017 season, “but, I feel good about our chances.”
The varsity squad includes: seniors Savannah Lafever, Keelie Hall, Ashley Edwards, Neelee Griffith, Hannah Bowen and Faith Bailey; juniors Tanya Chavez, Grace Ann Clark, Savannah Delffs, Jamie Edwards, Halie Padgett, Alana Peel, Greta Raby and Rylee Stiltner; and sophomores Halie Hawkins and Allee Griffith.
Pat Goddard will serve as an assistant coach with the varsity team this season.
The Lady Devils opened the 2017 season on Monday, March 20, with an 8-3 victory over Science Hill.
They hosted Elizabethton on Tuesday, March 21, following The Erwin Record’s press deadline. They are scheduled to host Sullivan East at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, and travel to Sullivan North for a game at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 23.
They will also play in the East Tennessee Classic on Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25.
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A group of freshmen and sophomores make up the 2017 Lady Devil junior varsity softball team. They are: sophomores Hope Bailey, Madison Duncan, Allee Griffith, Emma Kelly, Carly Kinsler, Chloe Powers, Sydney Rogers and Cassie Selvage; and freshmen Kiley Bennett, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Abbie Grindstaff, Kate Hollenbeck, Kaylee Lamb, Kaylia Street and Ashtan Vance.
The junior varsity team is coached by Ray Webb and Bettina Chirica.
The squad won the annual BlueTech Tournament played at the UCHS field over the weekend.