Last year, Sonoraville Lady Phoenix Softball made a deep run in the state playoffs, securing third place overall. This year, the Lady Phoenix are preparing for another run to Columbus.
Head coach Chad Hayes, entering his eighth season at the helm, said in an emailed response the experience is still present.
“I’m interested to see who steps up and has a big year,” Hayes said. “Our senior class is very close knit. Team chemistry shouldn’t be an issue. I hope that finishing third in the state last year has left them hungry to finish this year with a state title.”
The Lady Phoenix will have six senior starters returning for this season. They are: Sandra Beth Pritchett at catcher, Karley Thomas at shortstop, Haley Williams at second, Katie Williams in center field, Payton Townsend at first and Shayna Dutton, who played the role of designated player last year but will be making the move to third base.
Kinsley Long, the lone junior on the team, is rebounding from an ACL injury suffered during the girls basketball season. Hayes said she has been limited this summer recovering from the injury.
Review of 2018
Last year, Sonoraville finished the year 29-7 with a 14-1 region record. The Lady Phoenix travelled all the way to the state semi-final, falling to Jefferson 2-0. The 2018 team had a plethora of talent across the board, especially in the junior and senior ranks.
“They had been starters or played significant roles since they were freshman,” Hayes said. “We felt going into the season last year we had a team that could win state. Finishing third was incredible, but we felt we were the best team in the state, we just came up short.”
Hayes said pitching and defense are two cornerstones of Lady Phoenix Softball. Last season saw Sonoraville pitch 15 goose eggs, led by senior Kristen Davis and freshman Taylor Long.
“(Kristen) had a stellar career at SHS,” Hayes said. “We were able to bring Taylor in and help take some of the burden off Kristen last season, which kept her fresh late in the year. Taylor pitched in some big region and state playoff games and was outstanding for us. She will take over as our ace this season.”
As a freshman, Long went 8-1 and played a pivotal part in Sonoraville’s run in the state tournament.
Last season, Hayes said he saw a lot of solid defense behind Davis and Long.
“We pride ourselves on working hard in practice on fundamentals and game situations,” Hayes said. “Our coaching staff tries to cover every possible game scenario in practice so that we are ready for anything during games. We don’t get caught off guard often.”
Strengths and areas of
As mentioned earlier, pitching and defense have been staples. Of Sonoraville’s 36 games last season, eight were one-run contests and 10 were decided by two runs.
“I think pitching and defense will still be our staples,” Hayes said. “Our power has picked up over the spring and summer at the plate. I’m pleased with the pop in our bats over the last few months. Hopefully that pays dividends for us this year.”
One key area Hayes said needs improvement is in the offensive production category.
“We won a lot of close games last year, which is fine, but we need some more run support,” Hayes said. “We have to get more production from our 6-9 spots in the order this season. We have really worked on mechanics in our swings this offseason and we’ve seen a lot of improvement there over the summer.”
One undisputed series you’ll want to keep an eye on this year is the softball edition of the 53 Frenzy, referring to Calhoun versus Sonoraville. Last year, every game played between the rival schools was decided by two runs or less and both teams made the journey to Columbus for the state tournament.
“I felt we were the two best teams in the state last year in AAA going into the Elite 8,” Hayes said. “Our games felt like a state title game each time we played. The atmosphere was incredible.”
Both teams are gearing up to make another run to Columbus, speaking to the consistent talent around Gordon County.
“There are a lot of talented softball players in Gordon County and a lot of young talent coming up as well,” Hayes said. “We expect to have some battles again this season and for the foreseeable future with Calhoun.”
To assist in the transition process, Hayes said rising seniors conduct player-led workouts in the spring, so the younger girls on the team are well-versed once a new season begins in August.
“The seniors do a good job of bringing the young players along,” Hayes said. “This senior group is very close knit, they have been that way since they were freshman. They have grown up and played together for years. I think that provides a good example for the younger players to follow.”
Hayes said summer preparation to this point has been relatively light until this point, given many members of the team play travel ball. As of Monday, volunteer workouts resumed and will continue until the beginning of school on August 1.
The Lady Phoenix begin their 2019 season on August 6 with a home scrimmage against Gordon Lee High School.