Young Lady Cavs must learn quickly

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, March 5, 2009

Last spring, Lakeland’s softball team was made up mostly of seniors. That means this year’s Lady Cavalier squad is mostly new to the varsity level and as Lakeland hosted Wilson in a scrimmage on Thursday afternoon, the Lady Cavs fielded four returning players and seven newcomers, including four sophomores and two freshmen.

In the scrimmage, the Lady Cavalier lineup produced offense from top to bottom against a pair of formidable Wilson pitchers and Lakeland finished with an 11-5 win. Lakeland put up multiple runs in four of its six innings, highlighted by three runs in the second and four more in the third.

“We’re very young, but I think we played well today,” said Lakeland head coach Steve Wood.

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Perhaps Wood’s biggest challenge is replacing three-year starting pitcher Sarah Saunders. Saunders, now a pitcher for Div. II school Mount Olive, pitched every big game and nearly every game period for the Lady Cavaliers during the last three seasons.

Ashley Carroll, one of the few returning varsity letter winners from a season ago, started Thursday and fired three no-hit innings, tallying seven strikeouts. With Saunders as the ace, Carroll didn’t see much pitching action last year, but Wood is confident in Carroll.

“She’s capable of being the ace. She can be our go-to pitcher,” said Wood. Also a good sign was the two pitchers who followed Carroll. Erika Wood and Chelsea Speight pitched two innings each and did a consistent job.

Offensively, the experience the Lady Cavs have was at the top of the order Thursday. Lead-off hitter Shelby Pendleton scored twice out of four at-bats. Alyssa Chirico, who has taken over the catching duties after being an outfielder last season, reached base three times from the second spot. In the clean-up spot, Savannah Nuckols lined an RBI triple down the left-field line as part of Lakeland’s third-inning rally.

The varsity rookies contributed plenty as well though. Marissa Betkowski drove a two-RBI double to deep centerfield in the third inning. Wood and Megan Johnson were each 2 of 3 at the plate with one RBI each.

“I don’t know if we’re as far along right now as we were last year, but the team is coming along a lot faster than I thought we’d be,” said Wood about getting ready to start the regular season next week with district tests against defending-champion Hickory and city rival King’s Fork right away.

“I’m impressed with the girls’ encouraging each other and being enthusiastic,” said Wood.

“They’re playing well already, especially to be as new as they are with each other.”