The East Carter Lady Raiders won plenty of battles last season, but couldn’t win the war of the 62nd District in the end.
East Carter finished the season with the third-best record in the 16th Region at 25-8, but fell in the district title game to rival West Carter, 1-0.
“I know the girls have it in the back of their mind,” said East Carter coach Derek Calhoun. “All three games were good ball games. The title game was a pitchers duel where we got baserunners, but couldn’t get anyone across.”
The district looks like it may come down to the East-West rivalry once again.
West Carter coach Greg Reynolds said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s always been a rivalry, ever since East and West were built,” Reynolds said. “This rivalry gives us the drive to make us better. Even when we lose, we become a better team.”
Coming back for the Lady Comets will be starting pitcher Leatha Reynolds. She is the Comets’ top returning hitter as well — she batted .427 last season.
Leatha Reynolds has had Calhoun’s attention since the district championship game, in which the sophomore blanked his Lady Raiders.
“She’s the best pitcher in the region,” Calhoun said.
But Reynolds will miss the early part of the season because of a broken ankle suffered during the early part of the basketball season.
Coach Reynolds is hoping to have his ace pitcher back before the start of April, but will not use her as much as she last season until she is back in game-shape.
“We’ll have her pitching a couple innings to see how she feels,” Reynolds said. “There is no doubt that things are easier for us when she is on the mound.”
Until Reynolds returns, left-handed sophomore Alyssa Shelton will stand in as the No. 1 for the Lady Comets.
“She needs to be thrown in there and feel the pressure,” Reynolds said. “She’s very capable of picking up the slack. I think she’s ready.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Lady Comets have what Reynolds calls the best-hitting team he’s ever had.
After the younger Reynolds, seniors Megan Centers and Brooke Callihan are expected to add power to the middle of the lineup.
Sophomores Brooke Adkins and Patience Jones will also look to produce for the Lady Comets.
Early in the season, Reynolds hasn’t had much to judge his team on. West Carter has already canceled five games because of weather.
The Lady Comets are only one of two teams in the 16th Region to play just one game in the early going.
“It kind of worries me,” Reynolds said. “You play those first games and you start to work out the bugs and we’re still not doing that. It is what it is and we’re not going to make excuses.”
On the other side of the county, East Carter has played five games and have won them all. They also have outscored opponents 47-3.
That’s what Calhoun wants in his team — a team that can score runs, but more importantly keep the opposition off the scoreboard.
“I’ve stressed we want to be the best defensive team in the 16th Region,” Calhoun said. “We’re going to play good defense, have good pitching and score some runs here and there.”
The Lady Raiders will look to sophomores Morgan Jacobs, Tori Qualls and Montana Fouts in the circle.
While Jacobs will get the ball in the big games, Calhoun said he has confidence in all three.
“Morgan is obviously No. 1 because she’s been pitching varsity for a couple of years,” Calhoun said. “But it’s like we have a 1A, 1B and 1C. We can put all three on the mound and we would have the same confidence as we would against anybody.”
Along with being one of the top pitchers, Qualls is also the Lady Raiders No. 4 hitter. So far, Qualls is batting over .600 and has three home runs.
“She’s one of the scariest hitters in the region,” Calhoun said. “She rarely hits one easy. She can put it anywhere and hits it as strong to right field as she does to left.”
Along with Qualls, No. 3 hitter Jordyn Wiler and No. 5 hitter Kayla Hall have added home runs this season.
Heather Withrow, East Carter’s only senior, will bat second while Alexis Pennington will lead off.
“They have the possibility of hitting the ball hard every time,” Calhoun said. “Hopefully we can continue this through the rest of the season, we’ll definitely make some noise.”
Morgan County is coming off a 4-20 season, and have started the season 0-4, being outscored 40-2.
Elliott County is coming off a 1-11 season, and have started the season 0-3, being outscored 43-0.
If last season repeats itself, the 62nd District will come down to the two schools in Carter County.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Calhoun said. “It’s a good rivalry and I have as much respect for the other side as they have for us and it’s always fun when we get together.
“But West Carter has had bragging rights for four years and we’re going to have to wrestle them away.”