2. Unicoi County
3. Sullivan South
4. Sullivan East
5. Sullivan Central
6. Johnson County
7. Happy Valley
The Lady Cyclones, who made it to the TSSAA Class AA tournament last season, return most of their key players.
Sullivan South should be nipping at those teams’ heels, and Sullivan East and Sullivan Central could also make some noise. Johnson County and Happy Valley will have to battle to stay in the hunt.
Here’s a preview look at each of the seven teams:
With seniors Lauren Brickey and Kellie Cunningham available for circle duty, the Lady Cyclones should enter every game with at least a fighting chance. Brickey was last year’s Class AA Miss Softball.
“It’s a great 1-2,” said coach Ken Hardin.
The offense starts with senior Macie Herrmann.
“She has speed and is always on base,” said Hardin, who added Herrmann is a great defensive shortstop.
Brickey, the team’s top average hitter last year, is another threat. Also in the mix are Hannah Edwards and Kira Dillard.
Defensively, center fielder Maci West returns after making zero errors in 2017, and Haley Fair at catcher is among the best weapons for Elizabethton..
With senior Halie Padgett back in the circle, complemented by junior Allee Griffith, the Lady Blue Devils were already looking at a solid season.
Then Unicoi County got a boost to the lineup with the addition of Alabama transfer Sydney Miller.
“I think we’re going to be good,” said Lady Devils coach Grady Lingerfelt. “How good will be judged on how the pitching goes. We hit it pretty good.”
Leading the way at the plate are junior catcher Halie Hawkins, senior shortstop Rylee Stiltner, senior center fielder Tanya Chavez and Miller, who will play third base.
Defensively, the Blue Devils should be very strong with Chavez, Hawkins, Stiltner and Miller standing out.
“We’ve got good defense, good pitching, good catching, and we’re smart,” Lingerfelt said.
It could be a nice year for the Lady Rebels, who are already boosted by the return of coach Chris Sturgill after he missed a season because of a victorious battle with cancer.
“I’m doing good,” Sturgill said. “It’s definitely good to be back.”
Sturgill will have a pair of solid senior pitchers at his disposal: Taylor McConnell and Brynna Teal.
“Taylor is my No. 1 and Brynna is No. 2,” Sturgill said. “And we have two sophomores we will use a lot. It’s the most pitching depth we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Teal is the catcher when she’s not pitching.
The South bats leading the way at the plate will belong to McConnell, Teal, junior shortstop/second baseman Laura Dade and senior Taylor Wexler.
McConnell, at shortstop, and Teal are defensive standouts.
“This is the most talented team I’ve had,” said Sturgill, who is in his fifth season. “We have the talent to keep up with the top teams this year.”
The Lady Patriots have their sights set on big things.
“We are excited about this season,” said coach Michael Forrester. “We think we have all the right pieces to compete for a championship in a very difficult Three Rivers Conference.”
In the circle, the ball will go to junior Kylee Wolfe (13-7, 3.60 ERA in 2017) and junior Katelyne Loudy (11-9, three shutouts).
Wolfe is also the biggest threat the plate. She batted .448 last year with five homers, 45 RBIs and 15 doubles. She’s complemented by junior Chelsea Sams (.400, 7 HR, 34 RBIs), senior Amber Turner (.388, 5 HR, 32 RBIs) and Loudy (.344, 3 HR, 34 RBIs).
Senior center fielder Autumn Gobble is a defensive standout with excellent range, Forrester said.
After posting 24 wins last season, the Lady Cougars hope to make more noise in the Class AA ranks.
“We have an inexperienced and young pitching staff, with the exception of Courtney Willis,” said coach Eddie Springs. “We need to mature and grow up quickly. We lost a lot of production to graduation, but the returnees have played numerous games and should be ready for the challenge of a new conference.”
Leading the way in the circle is sophomore Courtney Willis, who was 10-6 as a freshman. Sydney Snapp and freshman Jasmine Sheffield will also see circle time.
Key hitters in the lineup include senior catcher Kelsey Willis and junior first baseman Alexa Chandler, who batted .324 with six homers and 37 RBIs last year.
Third baseman Madison Horne and second baseman Maddie Flannagan, both juniors, are also in the hitting mix.
Springs said among his promising young players are sophomore outfielder Nicole Stidham and Sheffield at shortstop.
There is a lot of hope for a good season in Mountain City, said coach Angela Blevins.
“I'm looking forward to seeing how this team progresses throughout the season,” Blevins said. “I have a great group of athletes with an extreme amount of potential who work hard and strive to do their best. I'm excited for what the future could hold.”
Getting the ball in the circle this season mainly will be sophomore Hannah Brooks and senior Courtney Brooks. Both also are on the A list at the plate.
Another good stick is junior Lindsey Wells.
When the Longhorns are looking for a defensive play to keep things steady, sophomore center fielder Abby Cornett is the likely candidate to deliver.
One thing first-year coach Cody Hyder likes about his team is toughness.
“These girls are tough and can play from the top of the lineup to the bottom,” Hyder said. “I’m looking forward to a good season.”
Senior Calli Davis and freshman Abby Holt will get most of the pitching duties.
At the plate, seniors Olivia Kelly and Kaitlyn Roberts lead the way. Juniors Macy Puckett and Kadie Havner are threats along with Makaela Hughes.
Roberts is the defensive standout in center field.