Prep Softball: South could make the county’s biggest jump
LAST SEASON’S RECORD:8-17 overall, 7-11 3A SPC ( tied for 6th)
THIS SEASON: 10-team 2A Central Carolina Conference
COACH: Dean Mullinax (2nd year, 12-19)
By Mike London
LANDIS — South Rowan logged its fourth victory of the young softball season on Tuesday, and there will be a lot more.
Moving down from 3A to 2A, South fields a very experienced team. The Raiders return all-county sluggers Brooke Lowery and Mataya Reynolds, plus all-county pitcher Whitley Arnott, who averaged better than a strikeout per inning as a freshman.
“We’re definitely excited and we’re staying positive,” second-year coach Dean Mullinax said. “A lot of the names you see are the same as last year, but this is a different team. They’re better defensively, and they’re tougher mentally. They can dig deeper. They’ve developed a real, no-quit attitude. We lost so many close games last year, but we hope to win the close ones this year.”
South’s 2017 record wasn’t impressive, but the Raiders, who won at West Rowan, were more talented than their won/lost slate shows. They fell in five one-run games and dropped another in extra innings. One of those one-run losses was 2-1 at perennial power Enka in the first round of the state playoffs.
So how high can South go? North Davidson, always strong and moving down from 4A, figures to be the powerhouse in South’s huge, new conference, and has already beaten the Raiders, 9-3. Ledford will be good — South has lost an extra-inning struggle with the Panthers. South has big wins in the early going against East Davidson and West Davidson,so it seems likely the Raiders can finish in the top three or four in a 10-team league.
South’s season will be built around Arnott, the 6-foot basketball center, who is capable of being dominant in the circle. She’s already struck out 15 against East Davidson and 17 against Ledford, and those are quality opponents.
“She’s still young, but she makes up for her youth with her strength and her hard work,” Mullinax said. “She should have some big things ahead of her. She competes hard and she has that let’s-go-get-it attitude.”
Morgan Brown will pitch some this year. She’s already won with a complete game against A.L. Brown.
“She’s a senior who had to sit out last year,” Mullinax said. “She gives us a good second arm.”
Courtney Mullins has made a comeback from a knee injury and will do most of the catching for the Raiders.
The infield includes familiar names, although there have been position switches that Mullinax believes will make the Raiders stronger with the gloves. Anna Blume, who drove in 10 runs last year, has moved from left field to third base. Ashlyn Plott and Karley Wood have traded places up the middle. Plott is stationed at shortstop this year, with Wood at second base.
“Plott gives us more lateral movement at shortstop,” Mullinax said. “And it looks like Wood just has a natural feel for playing second base.”
Lowery, a Catawba signee and one of the county’s best hitters, is back at first base. She smacked four homers as a junior, produced 24 RBIs and batted .417.
Reynolds, who also slugged four homers in 2017, is dealing with a strained knee ligament and some fluid build-up. She probably won’t be in the field much, but she’ll still swing a bat as the DP.
In the outfield, veteran Jalee Rollins gives South speed in center field.
“She’s our quickest runner,” Mullinax said. “She beats out a lot of infield hits.”
Summer McKeon has a strong bat — two homers already this season — and will man left field. Arnott can play right field when she doesn’t pitch. Sophomore twins Madison and Makenzie McGuire are also capable right fielders.
Five South players, including Arnott, just came off the basketball court, so Mullinax reasonably anticipates the Raiders being a lot better a month from now than they are today.
And where they are today is not bad. Their 4-2 start has included close wins by scores of 4-2, 2-1 and 8-7. So maybe they’ll win more of the tight ones this time.
Mullinax said that Zach Thompson, the South teacher who died from cancer in November, is still providing inspiration for his team.
“Zach always had that no-quit attitude,” Mullinax said. “This team has adopted that.”
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