No one is more disappointed about missing the spring high school sports seasons than the two Botetourt County softball teams. The Lord Botetourt and James River teams were both expected to have good seasons.
This is the season nine Lord Botetourt seniors have been looking forward to for the past three years. The Cavaliers have strong pitching and four seniors in the infield along with a solid supporting cast of underclassmen.
“We return all 10 starters,” said LB coach Cheryl Shockley. “I say 10 because we utilize the DP/Flex position.”
The Cavaliers were anxious to get the taste out of their mouths from the way last season ended. LB was one win away from making the state tournament when Cave Spring pitcher Abby Weaver threw a one-hitter against them, striking out 13 in a 6-0 shutout. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Cavaliers, who had not only beaten Cave Spring twice during the regular season, but had been eliminated by the Knights at the same point in the previous year.
“We had a great season but it really stung how it ended,” said Shockley.
The loss ended LB’s season at 19-5 and the Cavs lost just one senior from that team, substitute Kayla Rosenberger. It was a given that the Cavs were going to be as good as anyone this spring, and after the Lord Botetourt volleyball and basketball teams won state championships there was even talk of a third girls’ banner going up in the school.
“We were chomping at the bit for the softball season to begin,” said Shockley. “We had an average of 22 players showing up for our out-of-season practices and conditioning. I am blessed as a coach to have this many young ladies to voluntarily show up again and again for conditioning and lifting to want to make this program successful. Our seniors wanted to leave a legacy this year and win it all.”
Of Botetourt’s nine seniors six have been on the varsity since their freshman year, including an infield that would have played together for the third year in a row with Kloe Bacon at third, Maia Folk at short, Maegan Barnes at second and Lauren Hoffman at first. Senior Meredith Wells, who has committed to pitch at James Madison University next year, and Hoffman give LB a great one-two punch on the mound. Other seniors are Kenleigh Gunter, Leah Carlton, Madison Gunter and another pitcher, Breanna Carter.
Junior Audrey Butler returned behind the plate and other returnees included juniors Hailey Deter, Halle Reese and Carsen Blake and sophomores Gianna Sloan-Lebron and Rhyann Jones.
James River coach Steve Austin graduated six seniors last year, including five starters who supplied 50 percent of the team’s offense. However, he returned standout pitcher Ainsley Simmons, who was on the mound for 131 of the Knights’ 135 innings last year and posted a 3.05 earned run average.
If the Knights’ scrimmage with Tazewell was any indication, River was looking forward to another good year at the plate. The Knights scored 10 runs in the first inning in a jamboree at Cave Spring that was held just before the pandemic put the season on ice.
River returned four seniors this year, including Lakota Lucado who has a .407 career batting average and 92 career hits. Other seniors are infielder Madison Brogan, designated player Payton Kreklow outfielder Megan Cox.
Junior Lacey Lucado, Lakota’s younger sister, hit .417 with 22 runs batted in last year. Other juniors are Simmons, Lauren Griffin, Lizzy Garrett and Persephane Woods. Karlee Eubank is the only sophomore on the team but Austin kept four freshmen, Kaycee Kincaid, Lexi McCullough, Austyn Moran and Jenna Pugh, and several figured to be starters.
With the season on hold, and looking less likely to resume every day, Austin has been keeping in touch with the team through various means.
“We have a text ‘tree’ where I text info and updates to one senior who passes it on to the team,” said said. “I have also sent a video to our team expressing my disappointment for them, especially the seniors. I offered to help them anyway I can, asked them to stay home and safe, and I have kept them up to date on the VHSL situation. Teresa Simmons, our website creator, also helps get communications onto our site and onto twitter and other outlets.”
It’s been extremely disappointing for Austin, a “softball lifer” if there ever was one.
“I’m going crazy,” he said. “I think for me at James River, we did 15 open fields in the fall, another 10-12 open gyms in the winter, then went through tryouts and a couple of weeks of practice. We had a successful preseason and got very excited, then it all shut down. The hard stuff was all out of the way and the fun was just getting ready to start, and I am so devastated for the seniors.”
LB’s Shockley echoed those thoughts.
“I miss them so much, all of our coaches do,” she said. “We have some very special young ladies in this program. We have facetimed each other to have a more personalized check-in and conversations about school work and questions, softball and anything they want to talk about. We have a varsity group text message chat, JV group chat and then a whole program fitness group chat. They get a couple of fitness challenge videos a week from me. They can choose to do and post scores to our group chat. They invested so much in the off season creating strength and speed, this is a good way to keep their strength and stamina up so they can be ready to go once we are able to get back on the ball field.
“So many of our girls are committed to the game they practice it year round. Our pitchers are continuing to work on their pitching craft with their parents or grandparents. Many of them have some type of hitting station set up at their house. We have two groups of sisters in our program as well as many other siblings that love playing ball, so when the weather is nice they are throwing something around.”
As for the chance of playing some games, it’s getting less likely every week. The Virginia High School League has not officially called off the season, and there was talk of having a tournament of some kind during the summer, but those hopes are fading.
“At this moment the only thing you can have is hope,” said Shockley. “We first hope that this virus doesn’t take anyone we love from us and it goes away quickly. We will be ready when we are allowed to be together again.”