Rowan County coach Larry Slone has seen it all as he enters his 26th season as skipper of the Lady Vikings.
The unprecedented postponement and implications levied by the KHSAA’s mandatory dead period has put the spring sports season in new territory.
“I am always raring to go,” Slone said, “but I had to remind them this is softball. It’s great but this situation that we are talking about now, we are talking life and death.”
Softball is still on the agenda and Rowan County will begin the new campaign with high expectations after winning its third consecutive 61st District title last year. Slone said this season will be a rebuilding process.
“We had five seniors graduated that started,” Slone said. “Our pitcher had a little bit of varsity experience last year, but nothing you can hang your hat on, so it’s going to be a growing, learning and getting-better year for us. We feel like we should be able to compete by the end of the year when we get into district and region. We will have some experience under our belt. Hopefully we will grow a lot during that period.”
Bath County lost its two best classes to graduation the last couple of seasons, according to coach Kenny Williams. The Lady Cats will rely on a young but talented roster.
“We’ve lost 10 seniors in the last two years,” Williams said. “But I was really looking forward to the season because of all that youth. Knowing that we had a lot of quality eighth-graders and freshmen that played summer ball, it’s a bummer that we aren’t going to have a lot of time to ease our way into the season.”
Fleming County brings back an experienced squad, returning six starters in the field and a top player in the region, Sidney Argo, a three-time All-Area selection who has batted over .600 for three straight years.
“We only graduated three seniors and we return six of the starting nine on the field,” said second-year coach Tanna Seuferer. “Our DH returns. She is just an eighth-grader. We return quite a bit of experience, which should make us pretty competitive.”
New girls in new roles have led Slone’s focus to teaching his team the little things during the offseason.
“Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves,” Slone said. “Do things right and don’t cut yourself short. Be where you are supposed to be, don’t get caught watching. We are trying to get that instilled in them.”
Slone believes the 61st District will be fierce once again. He anoints the Lady Panthers the early favorites in the preseason.
“It’s still pretty good,” Slone said. “Fleming County is coming back with the nucleus for their team. Always a good start. I would say they are ahead of us starting out. Bath County lost some experienced players. We are both rebuilding. Fleming probably has the nod.”
Slone lost his two top hurlers from last season but feels sophomore Haley Middleton is ready to step into a bigger role after collecting 44 innings in the circle in 2019.
“Haley pitched a couple of good ball games last year,” Slone said. “She threw one up at Russell against a team from West Virginia. They beat her in the seventh inning. She beat Johnson Central. She has the ability to pitch good ball games and finish.”
“Our backup pitcher will be Bethany Sergent,” he added. “She throws well. Once she gets her control and understands a little more about the composure of the pitching position, I think she will be fine.”
The Lady Vikings will have a solid, stellar player at shortstop. Haven Ford always leads by example.
“Her ability to compete and desire to win will spill over to the other players,” Slone said. “And that kind of demand that she will put on you, it might not be spoken, but there is a demand that you play your best. She expects you to perform and get the job done and if you don’t, you let her down.”
Macie Pennington will be behind the plate as catcher as a great complement to the pitchers.
“(Haley) is gaining confidence that she can get the job done when she walks out there,” Slone said. “As a pitcher the weight of the team and the game really is on your back. Pitching and catching is where it starts and finishes a lot of times. You must be strong in those two positions.”
Emily Hacker will see time at both corners at first and third base. Kendall McDaniels is at second. Bailey Trent and seventh-grader Bailey Caskey can rotate into several positions on the infield.
Bethany Sergent will play in center field. Middleton, Trent and McDaniels will occupy outfield positions depending on who is in the circle.
Williams is entering his 10th season in Owingsville. The Lady Cats have been focusing on “situational softball” in the offseason.
“We are been working on trying to get the kids to understand the game,” Williams said. “Their experience is a lot of travel ball. With Argo in our district, we are preparing for a lot of small ball. We have a couple of young pitchers that we thought would pitch by committee at least starting out. One played basketball and the other started for us as a seventh-grader at shortstop last year. She did a bang-up job.”
Bath County looks to build off consecutive region tournament appearances the last two seasons. The confidence level is growing, and they are ready to do more than just compete with the region’s top teams.
“Going to back-to-back region tournaments is big for us,” Williams said. “It was a big boost. We finally turned the corner. We knew that we could compete with the Rowans and the Flemings. The girls now know we are just as good as anybody and now it’s time to compete with the Ashland and the Boyd County teams. I think the upperclassmen have bought into the fact that we don’t have to bow down to anybody.”
McKenna Moore graduated along with her 14 wins and 1.89 ERA from a season ago. The Lady Wildcats will replace her with inexperience, but Williams sees big things from freshman Kirsten Vice. She tallied just five varsity innings last year. Taylor Hodson, an eighth-grader, will see innings in the circle as well.
“I didn’t want to take her away from her middle school team last year,” Williams said of Vice. “She rode with the middle school every chance she could. I got her for a couple of games last year. She pitched against Nicholas County in our own invitational and got her first varsity win. I kept telling her you are going to be the big dog next year. I’ve been impressed with her maturity.
“Taylor been working hard in the offseason. The two together would have given us a good 1-2 punch.”
Both players will benefit from the leadership of junior catcher Jesselin Miller. Williams wants the region to become aware of her, too.
“She is one of the better catchers in the region and for sure one of the best hitters,” Williams said. “She would have broken our home run record early but now we will have to wait and see. Bummed for these kids that are missing out on all those at-bats.”
Kennedy Thomas might be short in stature but knows the long ball. She brings power and great glove to third base. Hodson will occupy shortstop. Ashtyn Barrett, another eighth-grader, is getting acclimated from basketball and will play second. Vice will see some time at first along with JoJo Poynter, Ashlee Rogers and Dara Davis in the infield at times.
Rhianna Carpenter and Samantha Swartz will guard the lines in right and left field, respectively. Three-year starter Brianna Day will be in center field.
The Lady Panthers want to execute at a higher level this season and improve on their 171-run total from a season ago.
“We’ve really worked on our hitting non-stop the last three weeks (before the postponement),” Seuferer said. “We are really focused in at practice and the girls are working hard. I’ve seen huge improvement in their swings and their work ethic. They have shown up to practice with a purpose. I was really excited to get started on March 16.”
Fleming County entered the offseason on an upswing having won 11 of its last 16 contests, but fell to Bath County in the district tournament.
“We finally got a lineup that was producing runs and we had girls that were putting the ball in play,” Seuferer said. “Earlier in the season we had quite a few errors coming through. We finally settled down on defense. Our pitchers were throwing well and we were making plays. It all came together at the end.”
Argo continues to produce solid seasons and Seuferer said she is working to add another weapon to her offensive repertoire. Defensively, she is solid, according to her coach. She can play multiple spots on the field, including in the circle.
“She is a really tough out at the plate,” Seuferer said. “We have been working on her hard slap and putting the ball in play instead of laying down bunts all the time because teams have started to figure out that was her game plan. We are trying to put another tool in her tool bag.”
Argo also presents a leadership quality that makes an impression on her teammates.
“Whether she knows it or not, girls are always watching her and our younger kids want to be like her,” Seuferer said. “They do try to mimic what she does. She is just an all-around good kid.”
Argo will share pitching duties with sophomore Caroline Price. Seuferer said the other starting jobs are not pinned down yet, but in a scrimmage Kylie Griggs and Lauren McGinnis played in the infield. The outfield will be the same from last year — Lacy Edmond, Mallory Donahue and Courtney Arrasmith. Gracie Newsom is looking to switch from first base to catcher.
Menifee County coach Tiffany Carty enters her second season as the Lady Cats try to rebound from a 6-24 season.
Menifee County will have to replace senior pitcher Kirsten Harris as well as catcher Alley Warren and shortstop Kaitlyn Patrick.
Attempts to reach Carty for comment were unsuccessful before press time.
61st District softball team capsules
Coach: Larry Slone (26th season)
Last year: 26-11
Where season ended: 16th Region semifinals
Coach’s outlook: “We feel like we should be able to compete by the end of the year when we get into district and region. We will have some experience under our belt. Hopefully we will grow a lot during that period.”
13-East Carter; 14-Fleming County; 16-at Bath County; 17-at Russell (Tri-State Showcase); 18-Cooper (Tri-State Showcase at Boyd County); 18-Corbin (Tri-State Showcase at Boyd County); 20-at Mason County; 22-at Fleming County; 23-at Raceland; 24-Estill County (Powell County Invitational at Powell County); 24-Franklin County (Powell County Invitational at Powell County); 25-Paul Lawrence Dunbar (Harrison County Triangle #2); 25-Harrison County (Harrison County Triangle #2); 27-at Greenup County; 29-Montgomery County; 30-at Ashland.
4-Jackson City; 5-at Estill County; 6-at Menifee County; 6-Menifee County; 8-Greenup County; 9-Pikeville; 9-Lawrence County; 11-at Russell; 12-Morgan County.
Coach: Kenny Williams (10th season)
Last year: 22-11
Where season ended: 16th Region quarterfinals
Coach’s outlook: “I was really looking forward to the season because of all that youth. Knowing that we had a lot of quality eighth-graders and freshmen that played summer ball, it’s a bummer that we aren’t going to have a lot of time to ease our way into the season.”
14-at Powell County; 15-East Carter; 16-Rowan County; 18-West Carter (David Iery Classic at Bath County); 18-Mason County (David Iery Classic at Bath County) 23-at Fleming County; 24-at George Rogers Clark; 27-at Paris; 29-at Menifee County; 30-at St. Patrick.
1-at Mason County; 2-Breathitt County (Bath County Derby Day Classic); 2-Williamstown (Bath County Derby Day Classic); 2-Somerset (Bath County Derby Day Classic); 4-Fleming County; 5-Bryan Station; 7-at Morgan County; 11-Lewis County; 12-Montgomery County; 14-at Boyd County; 14-Boyd County.
Coach: Tanna Seuferer (second season)
Last year: 13-15
Where season ended: 61st District semifinals
Coach’s outlook: “We only graduated three seniors and we return six of the starting nine on the field. Our DH returns. She is just an eighth-grader. We return quite a bit of experience, which should make us pretty competitive.”
13-Mason County; 14-at Rowan County; 16-Robertson County; 17-Huntington, WV (Tri-State Showcase at Boyd County); 18-Cooper (Tri-State Showcase at Boyd County); 18-Corbin (Tri-State Showcase at Boyd County); 20-Elliott County; 22-Rowan County; 23-Bath County; 28-West Carter; 30-Menifee County.
1-Collins (Birds Nest Classic at Great Crossing); 2-Pulaski County (Birds Nest Classic at Great Crossing); 2-Shelby County (Birds Nest Classic at Great Crossing); 4-at Bath County; 5-at East Carter; 7-at Elliott County; 8-at Mason County; 9-Lewis County; 11-Montgomery County; 13-Bourbon County; 14-at Greenup County; 15-Raceland.
Coach: Tiffany Carty
Last year: 6-24
Where season ended: 61st District semifinals
Coach’s outlook: Did not respond.
15-at Paris; 18-at Newport; 18-at Newport; 18-Augusta; 21-at Fairview; 25-Oneida Baptist Institute; 25-Owsley County; 28-Magoffin County; 29-Bath County; 30-at Fleming County.
4-Powell County; 5-at Elliott County; 6-Rowan County; 6-Rowan County; 8-at Berea; 9-at Oneida Baptist Institute; 9-at Buckhorn; 11-Paris; 12-Elliott County; 16-at Augusta.