The Craig County Rockets will open the softball season next Tuesday, March 16, with a home game against Eastern Montgomery.
The Rockets will once again be led by pitcher Nicole Craft, who is now a senior. Craft has been a solid pitcher and a good stick for Craig for the past three years, and this year she could be even better.
“Nicole had shoulder surgery in the off-season and she looks better than ever,” said coach Trent Lipes. “She did a good job for us last year, but there were times when you could tell she was hurting. Now she’s all fixed up and she says nothing’s bothering her, so we’re looking for a big year out of Nicole.”
The Rockets have an abundance of what all teams are looking for, and that’s pitching. Craft will be the horse on the mound, but Lipes is also glad to have Brittany Ratliff back after a year off. Brittany was not eligible last season when she returned to Craig after enrolling at another school. Freshman Ashley Dudding can also pitch, and Olivia Cole is another hurler with promise.
“We’re loaded with pitchers,” said Lipes. “Nicole will be our main one, but I have confidence in all of them.”
Craig also has some pop at the plate. Craft is a good hitter, and Craig has some lumber at the corners with Ratliff at third and returning slugger Sarah Wood at first. That’s a tough middle of the order for opposing hurlers to contend with.
Haley Gillespie replaces Chelsea Hutchinson at catcher, and that’s been somewhat of a concern as Haley has no varsity experience behind the plate. Danielle Rock could also see some time at catcher.
Shortstop is a battle between Josie Greenway and Jordyn Frango, and Greenway or Cole will likely start at second. In the outfield, Shawna Huffman is in left, Rock will start in center, and Kaedi Wasson will likely start in right. Anna Smith is a utility player who will back up several spots.
James River and Bath County have been picked as the favorites in the district, but Craig County should be right in the hunt. It could be one of the strongest, and most even, Pioneer races in a few years.
“We have the pitching, and we should be a better hitting team this year,” said Lipes. “It’s hard to tell too much, because we haven’t been able to get on the field, but we’ve been hitting the ball hard in the batting cage.”