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Previewing the 2021 high school softball season
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Previewing the 2021 high school softball season

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Players to watch

Taylor Norton, senior pitcher, Cosby: A first team All-Metro selection as a sophomore in 2019, Norton struck out 182 hitters in 128 innings and tossed 16 shutout innings with 20 punch-outs in the state title game. She also hit .329 with three home runs and 29 RBIs.

Emerson Aiken, senior pitcher, Glen Allen: A University of Michigan recruit and 2019 All-Metro first-teamer, Aiken was named the 2020 Gatorade softball player of the year for Virginia. She struck out 304 hitters in 144 innings, posted a 0.48 ERA and .465 WHIP, tossed 12 shutouts, seven no-hitters and two perfect games in 2019.

Cassie Grizzard, junior pitcher, Midlothian: A Louisville recruit, Grizzard slashed .442/.554/.721 with 15 RBIs as a freshman and didn’t allow a run while striking out 29 in 13.2 innings pitched.

Kelly Ayer, senior middle infielder, Atlee: The speedy Ayer hit .492 and slugged .770 in 2019 as the spark plug at the top of the Raiders’ order.

Keriann Slayton, senior catcher, Maggie Walker: Another 2019 All-Metro first-teamer, Slayton has a .505 career batting average. She hit .503 as a sophomore with a 1.183 OPS, drove in 24 runs and scored 15. She also threw out 90.5% of runners behind the plate.

Madi Williams, senior pitcher/outfielder, Clover Hill: A 2019 All-State outfielder, Williams hit .466 with a .530 on base percentage and 22 runs scored. She also went 3-2 with a 3.04 ERA.

Sarah English, senior pitcher/first baseman, Powhatan: A .657 hitter, English went 13-5 in the circle last season and is the fulcrum of a strong Indians team.

Gracie Ellis, senior pitcher, New Kent: The 2019 Region 3A player of the year, Ellis went 19-3 with a 0.851 ERA and 218 Ks and hit .364 with a .500 slugging percentage and 12 RBIs.

Also keep an eye on: Julia Mardigian, SS, Hanover; Viana McKinley, P, Monacan; Sydney Blackwell, OF, Mills Godwin; Abbie Campbell, SS, Midlothian; Kara Hammock, P, Atlee; Allison Crum, 3B, Clover Hill; Riley Dull, P, Patrick Henry; McKenna Mueller, OF, New Kent; Laurenne Gallagher, OF, Cosby; Kiley Lamberth, SS, Mechanicsville; Lauryn Richardson, 2B, Cosby.

Teams to watch

Class 6

Cosby still has lots of key pieces from its sophomore-heavy 22-3 2019 state-finalist squad. In addition to Norton, outfielders Laurenne Gallagher, Abbie Connor and Genevieve Brunner, second baseman Lauryn Richardson, catcher Leah Butts, shortstop Jordan Wise and first baseman Brooke Tortoriello will feature for a loaded Titans outfit with droves of experience in coach Ray Jeter’s 15th year at the helm.

Class 5

Grizzard and shortstop Abbie Campbell (.415/.500/.610), a JMU signee, are the catalysts for a deep and formidable Midlothian team. Senior outfielder Amanda Lanyon (.346/.452/.500) drove in 14 runs in 2019. Junior third baseman Ellie Herndon (.341/.396/.341) and three junior varsity callups, catcher Ryleigh Jones, left fielder/first baseman Ellie Mulligan and utility player Tate Swecker will all feature prominently.

Mills Godwin will be lead by the senior outfield duo of Sydney Blackwell and Rhiannon Jones, junior catcher Sydney Shaffer and senior pitcher Ivy Ray. The Eagles have lots of power in the 3-4-5 spots, and the team defense is above average in coach Keith Wagner’s first year at the helm.

Ayer is the top offensive weapon for perennial contender Atlee, and junior Savannah Nash (.311 BA, .571 SLG) anchors the outfield. Senior Kara Hammock and junior Carsen Sanders form a formidable one-two punch in the circle for a versatile defensive team with a mix of power and speed in the lineup.

Williams leads Clover Hill at the plate and in the circle. Senior third baseman Allison Crum hit .407 with 10 doubles and 20 RBIs in 2019, she and senior shortstop Mia Kincaid (.310 BA, 19 RBIs) are also weapons for the Cavaliers, who went 11-8 in 2019.

Two-time defending Region 5B champion Manchester is facing lots of turnover after losing coach Jessica Sullivan and All-Metro player of the year Molly Grube. But this young Lancers team still has plenty of talent, namely senior catcher Lena Happel (.500 BA, 8 home runs) and junior third baseman Brooke Powell (.529, 4 HRs).

Longtime coach Jackie Davis retired from Mechanicsville in 2020, and the Mustangs enter Gary Stonebraker’s first season in charge featuring a few freshmen, including pitcher McKinley Duke and catcher Maddie Goad. Senior shortstop Kiley Lamberth is the headliner.

A young Matoaca team will have five freshmen in the mix to start. The Warriors will lean on junior pitcher Brianna Branch, she had 80 strikeouts and went 10-6 as a freshman, and three senior leaders: center fielder Halley Hengle, first baseman Ryle Franklin and outfielder Morgan O’Neil.

Class 4

Returning All-State pitcher Riley Dull headlines a young Patrick Henry team that’s strong up the middle and has regional championship experience at a few positions. Utility player Emma Keys and outfielder Hailley Street will play key roles for a Patriots team coming off a 16-7 season.

Marie Crump enters her 40th season in charge at Powhatan coming off a 15-6 effort. English features, but the Indians have plenty of talented seniors, including catcher and third baseman Kayla David (.406 BA), outfielder Emmalee Lawson (.400) and shortstop Ellia Barton (.343).

Senior shortstop Julia Mardigian leads a perennially strong Hanover team that’s solid defensively and has a wide range of experience levels. Junior catcher Jenna Currie will be charged with bringing along youth in the circle, and junior outfielder Reagan Hill will feature offensively.

Talented sophomore pitcher Viana McKinley and junior outfielder Molly Ecroyd lead a strong Monacan side with lots of upperclassmen.

Class 3

Ellis leads a New Kent team that returns a strong core from its 2019 Bay Rivers District and Region 3A champion squad. First team All-State outfielder McKenna Mueller (.403 BA, .613 SLG, 14 RBIs), second team All-Region shortstop Haley Baker (.465, .613, 15 RBIs) and All-Region third baseman Brylea Ricks headline for an imposing Trojans outfit.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

Freshman pitcher Samantha Rao will be charged with filling the shoes of All-State hurler Madison Flinchum for a Collegiate side that features four-year starter and shortstop Laila Gwathmey (.341 BA, 25 RS, 15 RBIs) and center fielder Ella Mitchell (.309, 14 RBIs, 29 SBs).

Note: With the quick turnaround between seasons and the high number of spring sports, the Times-Dispatch is not doing team-by-team capsules. These highlights are based mostly on forms returned by schools to the RTD.

— Zach Joachim

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