The Black Diamond District will field one more varsity softball team than the league did a year ago, but the same two squads are favored to battle for the top spot.
Honaker tries to defend its title from a season ago in what is the BDD swansong for the Tigers as they move to the Hogoheegee District beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
Grundy lost just one starter to graduation and attempts to dethrone Honaker.
Twin Valley is also in the mix, while Hurley is fielding a varsity squad after strictly playing a JV schedule in 2022. Council will not have a varsity softball team this spring.
The following is a look at each team in the Black Diamond District:
The Tigers must replace the district player of the year (Tabby Ball) and pitcher of the year (Laura McClanahan), but they are still the league’s preseason favorite.
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Catcher Emma Ray (.436, 18 runs, nine RBIs last season), first baseman Josie McGlothlin (.333, nine RBIs), outfielder Riley Hart (.298, three triples, 15 RBIs) and infielder Kiley Ray (.414, six doubles, 15 runs) were first-team All-BDD selections a season ago and are back in the fold.
Rylee Rasnake (.298), Anna Dye (.286) and Cynthia Juarez (.214) are varsity veterans too.
Rasnake had two hits in Honaker’s 2-1 season-ending loss to Northwood in the quarterfinals of last year’s VHSL Region 1D tournament.
Rasnake (2-0, 3.96 ERA), Hart and ninth-graders Jaiden Thompson and Gracie Shelton all can pitch.
Madelyn Dye and Lincoln Bush are also talented freshmen who will play big roles.
“These ladies have been working really hard and have been showing a lot of promise,” said Honaker coach Donovan Helton. “We have a balanced lineup with experience and youth, both expected to produce this season. Out of those starters, four will be seeing their first varsity action as freshmen. A lot of our success will depend on how quickly those ladies adjust to the speed of the varsity game.
“However, I’m excited about this group and their potential. If we can develop some run production and confidence early on, I feel that we will be very strong in the BDD and could make some noise in the Region D playoffs.”
Eight starters return for the Golden Wave, who will be led by first-year head coach Bryan Looney.
Pitcher Savannah Clevinger (8-7, 80 strikeouts), second baseman Kaylee Compton (.420), outfielder Emily O’Quinn (.429) and outfielder Jessi Looney (.433) were first-team All-Black Diamond District selections in 2022.
O’Quinn recorded Grundy’s only hit in a 10-0 loss to J.I. Burton in the quarterfinals of the Region 1D tournament, while Looney was the VHSL Class 1 state cross country champ and is one of Southwest Virginia’s best athletes.
Catcher Tiffany Deel (.431), first baseman Madeline Deel (.243), shortstop Maddie Owens (.340) and third baseman Taylor Bostic (333) are the other returnees.
Junior Ally Blankenship, sophomore Kadie McNutt, junior Madison Stiltner and junior Cassidy Lester are also expected to contribute.
“I feel that this is this team’s year,” Bryan Looney said. “These girls have been putting in the work for years and have continued to get better every year. I am excited to watch this season unfold.”
Twin Valley must replace its entire outfield and two middle infielders from last year’s squad that saw its season end with a 21-0 loss to Rye Cove in the opening round of the Region 1D tournament.
Ashleigh Davis (.357), third baseman Rayne Hawthorne (.212), first baseman Skylar Vanover (.212) and catcher Dezi Deel are the returnees. Davis is the ace pitcher for the Panthers as well as being the team’s top hitter.
Junior Bai Dotson, senior Morgan Hale, sophomore Chey Davis, freshman Kiarra Gross and sophomore Leya Vanover round out the lineup for the Panthers.
Chey Davis went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, while Skylar Vanover and Leya Vanover had two hits apiece in Wednesday’s 22-11 loss to the Jenkins Cavaliers from Kentucky.
“As always I just want to instill the love of the game for these girls and always stress the fundamentals,” said TV coach Brittany Russell-Belcher. “I just look forward to them getting to play and having these girls improve every game. “
The Rebels venture into varsity competition and the preseason roster numbered 18 strong.
The projected lineup includes freshman Tealy Adkins at catcher, senior Amelia Hunt at first base, ninth-grader Ciara Coleman at second base, junior Isabella Bailey at shortstop and freshman Jenna Jackson at third base,
Freshman Kara Robinson, junior Autumn Hardin and sophomore Lauren Blankenship will likely hold down the outfield spots, while freshman Brianna Stacy is the designated hitter.
Senior Kara Hagerman, Bailey and Hardin comprise the pitching staff.
Look for Jayda Hilton, Nikki Blankenship, Alicen Lester, Annie Cline, Brailyn Whitt, Caden Estep, Rylea Blankenship and Sarah Turner to contribute as well.
Black Diamond District Preseason Coaches Poll
First-place votes in parentheses
1. Honaker (3) 9
2. Grundy (1) 7
3. Twin Valley 5
4. Hurley 3