Softball coach looking for conference title

Published 11:30 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

East Forsyth captured the past two Central Piedmont Conference championships, but Davie’s softball team is a threat to rip the crown away from East in 2023.

Nathan Handy has an onslaught of talent in his first year as Davie’s varsity coach.

“Our No. 1 goal is to bring home the CPC championship,” he said.

Last year the War Eagles went 15-9 overall and 12-2 in the league under interim coach Debbie Evans. They finished second to 14-0 East, which also ran the table in 2021.

Players like Sydney Dirks (Western Carolina commit), Summer Simpson (Appalachian State commit) and Leah Grimes (Mars Hill commit), the only three seniors on the team, are inspiring dreams of the first CPC title since 2018.

Dirks has a shot to become Davie’s all-time home run leader. She has 14 career dingers, five behind Sierra Ferguson’s record. On top of that, she hit .549 last year to rank second on that single-season list. She also had 19 extra-base hits, 35 RBIs, 12 walks and eight stolen bases. Her sister London is a freshman softball player at Charlotte. Sydney will play second or third in the field.

“She’s obviously got power in her bat,” Handy said. “She’ll more than likely be the cleanup hitter. We’re looking for her to be a leader offensively and defensively.”

Simpson, the shortstop, is coming off a huge season (.476, five HRs, 27 RBIs, 17 BBs, 15 SBs).

“Summer is one of the best contact hitters,” Handy said. “It doesn’t matter where you pitch Summer, she’s dangerous. She’s got speed. She can bunt well. She’s just an all-around great offensive player. She’s got a great glove and great arm. Summer brings energy. That kid never has a frown on her face. We can be running hills and she’s smiling.”

Grimes is a highly-skilled first baseman who hit .327 last year.

“Leah is like a vacuum at first,” he said. “She’s one of the best first basemen I’ve ever coached. She’s an exceptional player.”

There’s a ton of good vibes because Handy has talent to go around that trio.

Lankford is ready to handle the hot corner after getting 30 at-bats as a freshman.

“Raelyn has worked her butt off in workouts,” he said. “She is not timid about creeping in even with power hitters at the plate, and it takes that no fear for a third baseman. She has a strong arm and her bat has exploded over the past year. In the first scrimmage, she went 4 for 5. She’ll probably be the leadoff batter.”

Lankford was the staff leader in wins as a freshman, getting six victories in eight starts and 27.1 innings. But Handy hopes he doesn’t have to use Lankford in the circle this year.

“She is a strong pitcher even though she doesn’t pitch a lot,” he said. “She’s just so good everywhere else that we can’t afford to put her on the mound a lot.”

In regard to the circle, Handy is looking for big things from sophomore Riley Potts, who made one start and eight relief appearances as a freshman.

“Riley will definitely toe the rubber a lot this year,” he said. “She’s worked hard to get back to 100 percent after missing a big portion of last year. Her spin and speed are really good.”

Hanna Steinour is a sophomore catcher who has created excitement in batting practice.

“She’s exploded. She’s done a complete 180 with her bat,” he said. “She’s got power. She makes contact. She’s a very solid hitter.”

Another gifted sophomore is center fielder Carleigh Croom, who hit .355 as an unfazed freshman.

“She’s a fantastic, all-around athlete,” he said. “She can make amazing diving catches. Offensively, she’s got power. I think she’s going to fill the two spot (in the batting order) because she’s such a good contact hitter and she’s a very good bunter.”

Jadyn Davis, who can play outfield, second or catcher, has unusual power for a freshman.

“She’s a heck of a catcher and we are excited about her bat,” he said. “She has the power to hit it out. She will probably fill the five spot.”

Carly Crouch and Callie Jenkins are freshmen. Crouch could see time in the outfield, at first or at catcher. Jenkins is an outfielder/middle infielder with good wheels.

“Carly can play all three of those positions very well,” he said. “She’s got good power. She’s a good, all-around athlete. We’re excited to use Callie in multiple ways. When she’s not in the game, she’s going to be running bases (for the pitcher). She’s a good contact hitter and doesn’t mind bunting. She’s got a good work ethic.”

Yes, there’s talent littered about this roster. Unfortunately, some of that talent is injured.

Junior Audrea Fowler, a right fielder/DH, is tied for fifth with nine career homers and hit .466 last year. While she is capable of knocking the cover off the ball, she could miss several weeks with a back injury.

“She was rock solid during tryouts,” Handy said. “She was obviously going to be a starter, and then she got hurt. She had a MRI and we’re not sure how long she’s going to be out. There’s nobody on our team that’s going to hit the ball harder than Audrea. In tryouts, she hadn’t swung a bat in probably six months and she hit one about 10 feet over our scoreboard. She almost killed somebody in our cages.”

Another junior dealing with injury is junior pitcher Addie Hendrix. Last year she led the staff with nine starts and 42 innings pitched.

“She’s working hard to get back,” Handy said. “She’s definitely a very strong pitcher.”

Notes: The roster includes junior Ashley Bledsoe and sophomore Delaney Parsons. … Handy moved up after serving as the JV coach last year. His varsity assistants are Fred Smith, Bridgett Tierney, Lindsey Custer and Ferguson. Mike Foster is the new JV coach, and his assistant is Kelly Moran.