It was a golden season for Grundy High School’s softball team in 2018.
The Golden Wave went 17-3, won the first regular-season district championship in the history of the program, added the Black Diamond District tournament title and posted the first regional tourney victory since 1992.
Grundy must replace the departed Julie Deel, who was named both the BDD player of the year and pitcher of the year, as it begins defense of its league crown.
The Honaker Tigers are atop the preseason coaches poll with the Golden Wave occupying the second spot.
The following is a look at each of the five softball teams in the Black Diamond District:
After two straight losing seasons, Honaker will try to regain its status as one of the top small-school teams in far Southwest Virginia.
The Tigers have five girls in the fold who were first-team All-Black Diamond District honorees in 2018 as pitcher/designated hitter/first baseman Abigail Lester, outfielder Halle Hilton, pitcher/designated hitter/first baseman Sommer Honaker, second baseman Alexus Cline and outfielder Alexis Anderson are proven talents.
Catcher Jill Shelton, outfielder/catcher Alexis Lowe, outfielder/second baseman Keleigh Musick and outfielder Bri Perkins are the other returnees.
Newcomers who will contribute are freshman pitcher/shortstop Lara McClanahan, sophomore infielder Allie Lowe and ninth-grade infielder Tabitha Ball.
Honaker is still young with just one senior (Cline) and two juniors on the roster.
This will be Amy Smith’s seventh and final season as the head coach of the Tigers as she will take over the softball program at Southwest Virginia Community College next season. She guided Honaker to the VHSL Group A, Division 1 state championship in her first year on the job in 2013.
Smith will try to go out on a winning note.
“Although we are still fairly young, these girls have lots of experience playing softball,” Smith said. “They will have to take what they learned last year on the varsity level and apply it this year. We need to be more solid in the field and reduce errors and produce good hits at the plate. The newcomers have a hard work ethic and I expect them to adjust quickly. Our goal is to work on improving every day and work hard all season to be where we need to be for the district schedule and playoffs.”
The Golden Wave will try to replicate last year’s history-making season and certainly have some heavy hitters in the lineup.
Catcher Sydney Stiltner (.522, three home runs, 27 RBIs, 28 stolen bases in 2018), first baseman Emma Deel (.465, 18 RBIs), second baseman Mashayla Belcher (.218, 13 RBIs), third baseman Autumn Stevens (.421, two homers, 23 RBIs, 20 stolen bases), shortstop Skylar Stiltner (.408, 33 stolen bases), Kelli Carter (.294) and Amelya Bostic (.302) give Grundy a lineup full of tough outs.
Shelbey Viers will take over as the team’s ace pitcher. She went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in three games in the circle last spring.
Outfielder Tori Beth Yates is a newcomer to watch.
“I love the energy that these girls bring to practice every day,” said Grundy coach Whitney Compton. “They are competitive, yet they have such great chemistry. They are proven winners from last season and they have the talent to continue that success this season.”
The Council Cobras have the ability score some runs with first baseman Alli Austin and shortstop Bree Ratliff at the center of the team’s attack.
Austin hit .588 with 15 RBIs last season, while Ratliff batted .424 with three home runs, 12 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Both were first-team selections on the All-BDD squad.
Council will also get a boost as pitcher Courtney Hess returns to the circle after being sidelined during the 2018 season with an injury.
Outfielder Emily Taylor (.454), catcher Sydney Stevens (.432, 16 RBIs), second baseman/pitcher Abby Rose, third baseman Abby Stevens (.580, 10 RBIs) and outfielder Lakota Helton (.258) are varsity veterans. Haley Huffman and Brooke Tiller will get at-bats as well.
“Real excited for this year’s group,” said Council coach Lee Baker. “We have a lot of returning starters that have gotten some valuable experience. They have a shot to make some real noise this year. We have pitching, we have offense and speed; we just have to shore up the defensive side. We could use a few more players for depth and flexibility, but we have what we have and we will just roll with what we’ve got. Hopefully, we are competing day in and day out and keep getting better each day and we should be in a good position at the end of the season.”
The Twin Valley Panthers have to replace six seniors – including four infielders – off last year’s squad.
However, head coach Brittany “Slick” Russell-Belcher is optimistic.
“Even though we lost six crucial starters last year, I think this year’s team is going to pick right up where we left off last season and keep getting better,” Russell-Belcher said. “The newcomers have already showed great promise and they work really hard every day.”
Pitcher Sam Ferrell (4.61 ERA, 86 strikeouts in the circle; .348 batting average, two home runs, 15 RBIs at the plate) is the most notable returnee. Outfielder Jessica Viers (.348), shortstop Ashley Viers (.295) and outfielder Shea Street – all juniors – are back too.
Hannah Boyd, Maddie Witt, Abbie Cooper, Kamryn Viers and freshman outfielder Hannah Belcher will be counted on as well.
The Hurley Rebels might struggle for wins again this season, but they have some solid players to build around.
Pitcher Havanna Mitchell, third baseman Tyla Lane and shortstop Brianna Justus played well last season. Mitchell was a second-team all-district selection, while Lane and Justus were honorable mention choices.
“The girls have been working really hard and have made great improvement since last season,” said Hurley coach Danny Justus.
The Rebels will also rely on Savannah Hunt, Tiara Stump, Kathy Stacy, Hannah Lester, Chealsea Roberts, Carrington Justus, Haley Blankenship, Sarina Justus and Brittany Stacy for contributions.