All the weapons

Lady Rebels arming for return to state tournament

Pitching?

Check.

Defense?

No problem there.

Speed?

Camille Olvey is a jet.

Offense?

In racing to a 6-0 start to the season, the Maryville High School girls softball team has outscored its opponents a combined 50-1.

The run surrendered was unearned.

“It’s just a very strong, fast team,” Maryville coach Ken Hawkins said. “We’re going to run on some people this year.”

The Lady Rebels, who visit Heritage today at 6 p.m., are a deep, drilled team with the potential to do a great many things this season, not the least of which being a repeat of a dominating run that carried Maryville to a 2002 state runner-up finish.

“I’ve told the team, and I don’t think there’s any secret, we start every season with the goal of getting to the state tournament,” Hawkins said.

The 2008 edition is similar in many ways to the 2002 team, Hawkins said. The ‘02 squad had a powerful, one-two pitching combination of senior Sarah Fekete and junior Gretchen Prugh. Both would go on to play at Division I colleges, Fekete at Tennessee, Prugh with Kentucky, with Fekete securing All-American honors as a Lady Vol.

“I didn’t care who was out there because I knew we were going to get a good outing,” Hawkins said.

Through six games this season, staff ace Brittany Monday and relief Chancli Connatser have been just as good at times, he said. Monday, a junior, has all the pitches, her best a withering express with runners in scoring position.

“Now, when somebody gets on base, she just mows them down,” Hawkins said.

Monday pitched Maryville to within a 1-0, region tournament loss to Central last season in reaching substate. On Tuesday, the Lady Rebel right-hander fanned 10 with three perfect innings in a rain-shortened, 5-0 win over William Blount at Sandy Springs.

“She did a pretty good job of shutting us down last year,” Heritage coach Mark Dowlen said, “and I’m sure she’s done nothing but improve.”

The day before Connatser blanked South-Doyle, 10-0, firing 10 strikeouts by the Lady Cherokees in a two-hitter. Used sparingly last season, the hard-throwing sophomore is coming into her own.

“Now, she’s not only stronger,” Hawkins said. “She’s got command of three or four pitches.”

Good pitching can carry a team a long way in fast-pitch softball, and few are better than Monday, William Blount coach Abbie Mitchell said.

“She does a very good job with offspeed stuff,” she said. “Her command of offspeed pitches is very effective. She’s a smart pitcher. I think she’s smarter than people give her credit. You can’t just blow it by everybody.”

Monday is without question one of the area’s best. Then there’s the defense behind her.

Catcher Kim Whaley, third baseman Bailie Roberts and shortstop Meredith Niethammer, teammates on the school’s basketball team, anchor a veteran infielder. Roberts is new there this season, moving in from the outfield to cover a loss suffered to graduation. The team’s cleanup hitter, she’s a Division I athlete with all the trimmings.

“She’s such a doggone good athlete, you’ve got to have her in the mix,” Hawkins said. “I decided early on I wanted to bring Bailie in. That was a no-brainer to solidify the infield.”

The change had the added effect of moving the speedy Olvey from left field to center, further tightening the vise for opposing teams. At the plate, Olvey sparks an offense that can hit for power and run the bases with abandon.

The scary thing is Olvey may not even be fastest on the base paths.

“I’ve got some girls that can come off the bench as courtesy runners that can fly,” Hawkins said.

One of those burners is sophomore Mary Beth Wortham, who Hawkins said is “probably the fastest girl on the team.”

It’s when the Lady Rebels get runners aboard they’re most dangerous. Roberts hits cleanup, and, in all respects, is the definition of the word. Her fifth-inning grand slam on Tuesday literally brought rain, a soaking downpour ensuing shortly after, forcing the contest to be called after 4 ½ innings complete.

“That ball Bailie hit would have been out of any college stadium,” Hawkins said. “That was a shot.”

The Lady Mountaineers enter this afternoon’s game off to a 4-7 start, 1-0 in district play. The losses have come against some stiff competition, including last weekend’s trip to the prestigious Worth Invitational in Murfreesboro.

“We’re still trying to find some answers,” Dowlen said. “Age wise, we’re not a young team, but experience wise we are. That’s why we like to play those tournament games at the beginning and not worry so much about winning.”

Maryville’s stout lineup withstanding, the Lady Mountaineers, Lady Governors and Farragut Lady Admirals are by no means making plans to concede the district. The Lady Governors trailed only 1-0 Tuesday prior to the Roberts blast. William Blount rookie pitcher Erica Tuck was on par with Monday for much of the game. As the talented freshman acquires the necessary innings pitched over the course of the season, the Lady Governors (5-3, 3-2) are sure to be in the thick of the hunt.

“She’s maturing, and I’m trying to get her as much game experience as I can before the end of April,” Mitchell said. “My heart smiles when I think about what she’s going to be like in a year or two.”

Along with Tuck came one of the best young battery mates Blount County softball has seen in some time in freshman catcher Cameron Campbell. A 2-6-2 putout with shortstop Leah Kelley Tuesday to thwart a double steam was definitely varsity stuff. In the outfield, the Lady Governors have one of the area’s bright young talents in freshman left fielder Hannah Smith.

William Blount is fast building the run support for Tuck. Kelly entered the game with the Lady Rebels with a .550 batting average. Smith is hitting over .400, with a slow-pitch-like .700 on-base percentage.

“At the end, it just comes down to them and how much they want it,” Mitchell said.

The Lady Mountaineers would like nothing better than to slow Maryville’s early-season run this afternoon. Senior pitcher Kara Murr ranks as one of the district’s premier players. Teamed with junior Miranda Rayburn, she gives Heritage a formidable, one-two pitching combination of its own.

“Those two together offer a different style of pitching,” Dowlen said, “so it’s a different combination, kind of what I had with (former ace) Shelley (Fagg) and (backup) Kaitlyn (Gourley).”

Remaining unblemished in league play is part of what this afternoon is about, but there’s more to it than that, Dowlen said.

Today is big, “not just because it’s a district game,” he said, “but it’s Maryville. We’ll definitely be ready mentally and emotionally. Hopefully, we’ll be ready physically to play the best game we can play.”

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