By Rick Sheek
Hampton’s middle school softball team may struggle in the early going, but first-year coach Joy Gardner is committed to righting the ship.
The Lady Bulldogs are off to an 0-2 start.
“We haven’t played our best,” Gardner said on Tuesday. “We’ll be OK. We’re going to struggle with pitching this year.”
Kourtney Tolley, an eighth-grader, is on the mound after not pitching last spring. The ace is thus sixth-grader Shyanne Tuelle, also one of the top position players.
“All the sixth-graders can step up and do the job,” Gardner said. “We’ll start at least three sixth-graders every game, so we’re real young.”
A seventh-grader, Kyla Stevens, anchors the infield at shortstop. She will also see some time at catcher.
Maddie Newman, a sixth-grader, is at second base. McKenzie Henegar, an eighth-grader, is on the hot corner at third.
The center fielder is Dawn Godsey, an eighth-grader. In right is Katlynn McNutt, a seventh-grader.
Tera Clark is the left fielder. Depending on the pitching situation, Clark will also play first base.
Alana Peal plays first and catcher. The coach refers to her as an all-purpose sixth grader.
Gardner assessed the Little Watauga Valley Conference race.
“Happy Valley and Johnson County are good programs,” the coach said. “Happy Valley has the travel teams and are going to be strong. We played with Johnson County last night, and if we can get our pitching to come around we’ll be competitive in the conference. I don’t know much about Cloudland and Unaka.”
With the high school program battling to become competitive, Gardner obviously has a huge challenge in rebuilding the feeder school.
“I’m just trying to get my feet on the ground,” the coach said. “We’ll try to compete, and we’re athletic. Sometimes our downfall is pitching.
“Pitching in softball is 90 percent of the battle, just getting it across the plate. We just don’t know how to do it yet.”