By Keeli Parkey
The 2019 Unicoi County High School softball team will be replacing six starters from a team that hosted a substate game last season. But head coach Grady Lingerfelt believes the group of Lady Devils has what it takes to continue to be successful.
“Our returning players are very good,” Lingerfelt told The Erwin Record. “I think we can be a very good team.”
Leading the way for the Lady Devils this season will be a group of five seniors – Allee Griffith, Halie Hawkins, Carly Kinsler, Chloe Powers and Cassie Selvage. Griffith will be the team’s main pitcher and throw most games this season. When not pitching, Griffith will play at first base. She will also hit cleanup. Hawkins, who is splitting time between the softball and track programs this spring, returns as the Lady Devils’ catcher and leadoff hitter. Kinsler will play first base and Selvage will play second. Powers will play in leftfield and may also pitch.
Also expected to start on varsity this season for the Lady Devils are junior Kiley Bennett at third base, junior Ashtan Vance in right field, sophomore Samantha Chavez in centerfield and freshman Betsabe Chavez at shortstop.
“We are a very good defensive team,” Lingerfelt said. “We have a good player at every position.”
These nine players are expected to play varsity day-in and day-out, but there are several other players who are also expected to see varsity time. Junior Abbie Grindstaff will pitch varsity innings. Her fellow juniors, Bella Bogart, Gabby Davis, Kaylee Lamb and Kaylia Street are also on varsity and will play on the junior varsity squad, as well.
“That will give them a lot of experience,” Lingerfelt said.
The sophomore class includes Leah Edney, Alison Hensley and Caroline Podvin. Freshmen on the team are Kerstin Buchanan, Rachel Hatcher, Jimena Rodriguez and Hannah Shelton.
“They are all good kids,” Lingerfelt said.
To make it late in the postseason, the Lady Devils will need to play well in all facets of the game. “Pitching is key,” Lingerfelt said. “But, we have to play good defense and hit the ball. We have to do all of that well.”
Serving as assistant coaches this season are Pat Goddard, Ray Webb and Tanya Chavez.
The Lady Devils will again compete in a conference against Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.
Lingerfelt said Sullivan East was a preseason favorite to win the league with his team and Elizabethton also competing for the title.
A rainy preseason limited preparations for the 2019 season, but that hasn’t stopped Lingerfelt’s team from being successful early in the season – winning the first three games – despite not hitting the ball as well as they can.
“Rain really limited us,” Lingerfelt said. “We haven’t hit real well because we didn’t get to see live pitching much. Both of our play days got rained out.”
The head coach said he expects the team to find a rhythm at the plate sooner rather than later.
“They can all hit,” Lingerfelt said.
The Lady Devils opened the 2019 season with a 6-1 conference victory over Johnson County in Erwin on March 12. Griffith got the win for UCHS with 8 strikeouts. She also went 2-3 at the plate with a homerun and 2 RBIs. Hawkins was 3-4 at the plate. Samantha Chavez had a solo homerun. Vance and Bennett (2 RBIs) each had 2 hits. Powers had 1 hit.
The team earned another conference win at Sullivan Central on March 14. A 10-run third inning and 17 total hits in the game lifted the Lady Devils to a 14-1 victory.
Powers had 5 RBIs on 3 hits, including a triple in the win. Hawkins and Selvage were both 3-3 at the plate with an RBI each. Kinsler had 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Samantha Chavez and Street each had 1 hit and 1 RBI. Bennett had 1 RBI. Griffith earned the win and gave up only 3 hits.
On Monday, March 18, the Lady Devils trounced Sullivan East – the preseason favorite to win the conference – 13-2. Lingerfelt’s team took control of the game with a 7-run second inning and closed the game with a 4-run fifth inning.
Hawkins went 3-3 with a homerun and 4 RBIs in the win. Kinsler had 3 hits with 2 RBIs. Selvage (2 RBIs), Griffith (1 RBI) and Powers (1 RBI) each had 2 hits. Samantha Chavez (1 RBI), Betsabe Chavez, Vance and Bennett (1 RBI) each had 1 hit.
The Lady Devils hosted Happy Valley in conference action on Tuesday, March 19, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.
They are scheduled to host Science Hill on Wednesday, March 20, and travel to Sullivan South on Thursday, March 21; both games are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.
The Lady Devils will end the week playing in the East Tennessee Classic on Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23,
They will play in the annual Eastman Tournament from March 28-March 31.