With six players back from the first softball team in school history to reach the College World Series, Surry Community College has its eyes set on another deep postseason run in 2016.
Six talented freshmen join the fold along with six sophomores from last season’s team that won a school-record 31 games en route to a Region X Tournament Championship. After setting a school record with 13 home runs last year, Kelsie Griffin is back – as an assistant coach. Lacey Grubbs and her eight home runs are gone as well, but Surry should still be stout on the mound. The Knights will need to find other ways to manufacture runs, however.
“It’s a different look than we had last year. Last year we felt like we had a team full of power hitters, which was evident by fact we hit 31 home runs,” Surry softball coach Blaine Bullington said. “I won’t say this team won’t do that, but is a different look. We will need to have more base hits and be aggressive taking extra bases. We are quicker and the kids and buying in to what we want to push.”
And while there is a good deal of talent returning from a year ago, Bullington wants his team to realize it is a different unit. Making it back to the College World Series will not be easy, especially now that the Knights will have a target on their back. Still, he feels the team has all the tools to have another outstanding season.
“We will not throw what we did last year on this group. Even though half of them have been there, we feel like we can compete in our region very well,” he said. “There are several tough teams in Region X and we have our work cut out for us. But if they do those little things and learn from those mistakes we were making early in the season, we have an opportunity to go to the conference tournament and win it. How we get to that point is completely up to us, and if they want to put time and effort into it, there is a good possibility we go back.”
Sophomore pitcher Hayley Tickle will be counted on heavily after an incredible freshman campaign on the mound. Tickle, a North Surry standout, compiled an impressive 15-3 record in 2015 with 14 complete games and a 3.36 ERA. She also struck out 44 batters while only walking 15. Tickle will also see
time at first base and in the outfield when she is not pitching. She’s also a tough out at the plate as her .400 batting average was second best on the team last year.
“Thank goodness we have her back on the mound. We are really expecting a lot from her,” Bullington said. “She was our pitcher of the year on the team last year. Even though Shey (Steelman) was pitcher of year in the conference, we felt like for us Hayley deserved it. We knew what we were going to get out of Shey, but didn’t know what we were going to get out of Hayley. You win 15 games in this league, you have done well. She finds a way to get outs.”
Also back is second-team all-region selection Taylor Little, a second baseman from Troutman. Little batted .336 and was fifth on the team with 18 RBI as a freshman.
“We are excited to have her back,” Bullington said. “We feel like she brings us a lot with her leadership.”
Morgan Shiflett of High Point also returns after a one-year break. A pitcher, she brings the team another good arm on the mound.
“We expect good things out of Morgan,” Bullington said.
An outfielder from Yadkinville, Regan Genry also returns. She hit .310 last year with 17 RBIs and was fourth on the team with 29 runs scored.
“Regan brings a lot of leadership to the team and we are fortunate to have her roam the outfield again,” Bullington said. “We will be playing a lot of freshmen out there and we need her experience and speed.”
A sophomore from Claremont, Molli Huffman is back to man an outfield spot as well. A left-handed hitter, she hit .295 a year ago with 13 RBIs and 29 runs scored. Sophomore shortstop Kaylee Johnson returns after hitting .316 with seven RBI and 10 runs scored.
“She really showed us a lot with her glove last year and we expect a lot this year. She is another leader,” Bullington said. “With all that leadership, we brought in some really talented freshmen. We hope it rubs off and we think it has already. Our goal is to repeat and go back to Mississippi, but right now our goal is to get better weekly.”
Newcomers this year include freshman Meagan Linville from South Stokes High School. A pitcher, shortstop and second baseman, Linville pitched one of Surry’s first two games at Guilford College on Feb. 6.
“She did a fantastic job,” Bullington said. “We are expecting big things out of her. She swings the bat well and we think she will step in and contribute right away.”
Local product Laken Bowman comes to the Knights from nearby East Surry High School. Expecting to man the catcher position, Bowman is another player expected to produce immediately for Surry.
“She seems to be a really good decision-maker behind plate. She has a big stick and we think she will come right in and help a lot offensively and defensively,” Bullington said. “We needed a catcher and we think she will do a fantastic job for us.”
Freshman Erynne Chalk of Hickory is a “jack of all trades,” Bullington said. Able to play shortstop, second base, catcher and outfield, Chalk actually started at third base at Guilford.
“We think she will be a backup catcher for Laken, but she will start somewhere,” Bullington said. “She made some really good plays at Guilford. She hits for average and we expect her to have a great career at Surry.”
Abbey Crews from Ledford High School is another player who can help on the mound, but she also will see plenty of time in center field. Bullington said Crews didn’t pitch much in the fall, something he realized was a mistake.
“We think she will get a lot of innings on the mound when she is not in the outfield,” Bullington said. “She is a left-handed stick that hits for average and she is sneaky quick. We’re excited for her and Meagan to play on this team. They both played on the same travel team and we feel very fortunate to have them.”
Another local addition to this year’s SCC squad will be freshman Abby Martin from North Surry. Although she was brought in as a utility player, she has quickly impressed in the outfield.
“She is fast. Even though she tore an ACL her senior year in high school, she is still one of the faster players on the team,” Bullington said. “With her, Abbey Crews and Regan, it gives us a lot of speed. We turned her into an outfielder and she has really taken to it.”
Freshman Brooke Bagwell comes to the Knights from Mooresville High. Even though she was brought in as a third baseman, she has claimed a spot at first base for the Knights.
“She has taken to it. She works hard to get better – wants that extra batting practice and a few more ground balls,” Bullington said. “She has a lot of power and she will help us tremendously.”
Helping round out the coaching staff this year along with Griffin will be Shey Steelman, the Surry ace who earned Conference Pitcher of the Year honors a year ago. They will be joined by the head coach’s daughter, Julianna, who comes to Surry after a four-year playing career at Pfeiffer.
Even though the Knights lost both of their openers at Guilford, Bullington felt like the team played well. He hopes that translates into wins beginning with a game Saturday at USC-Sumter.
“We came out on the short end of the score on both of them at Guilford, but sometimes you learn more by losing than winning. I really felt good about the way we played,” Bullington said. “We had only been on the field three times since Christmas because of weather. But I felt like we competed all day.”