The 2018 high school softball season is here and a group of seven McDowell Lady Titan seniors is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to do some big things on the diamond.
McDowell returns one of its deepest and most talented groups in recent history, and has sights on some goals for the season.
So far in the preseason, head coach Catriona Young has been very impressed not only in the work put in by her team but also the leadership being shown by her seniors toward the rest of the program.
“I’ve been pleased with things I have seen to this point,” said Young. “We are still implementing players in from basketball. We have an experienced group and they are handling that well. One of the things we’ve challenged the seniors is for them to lead the program. They have been matched up with younger kids and have done well guiding them through everything we do. It was like from the first practice our varsity kids picked up from where we left off a season ago.”
The season officially kicked off Wednesday as the Lady Titans fell to a tough Owen squad in a non-conference battle.
McDowell is returning nearly its entire roster from a group that went 11-10 a year ago. In fact, a dozen of the Lady Titans from a year ago are back. Of the 14 on this season’s varsity roster, they’re evenly split among respective classes, seven juniors and seniors each.
With the wealth of experience back on the field the 2018 Lady Titans are looking to compete in their return to the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, a strong league that features traditional softball power Alexander Central along with solid programs in South Caldwell, Watauga, Freedom and St. Stephens.
“I think we have chance to do some good things,” said Young. “The girls are excited and ready for the season. We move from a league that featured strong programs like Enka to now playing the likes of Alexander Central and South Caldwell, both teams that we have played in the past. Our girls are familiar with them so I don’t see us being intimidated by any means. They’re ready for the challenge.”
McDowell is going to feature a rock-solid defense up the middle.
Parker Brown (.397 BA, .438 OBP, 16 RBIs, 11 SB), a 4A All-State selection in 2017, along with second baseman Madison Ogle and catcher Kat Carroll (.278 BA) give the team a strong core in the middle of the diamond.
District 8 4A Player of the Year Hannah Shelton also returns for her senior campaign at third base, providing not only a strong defensive presence on the left side but a potent leadoff hitter in the Lady Titan lineup.
Shelton (.425 BA, .600 OBP, 17 SB, 13 RBIs) led the team in hitting, on-base percentage and runs scored a year ago.
The battle for first base was still up for grabs going into the season opener.
Juniors Nicole Gallion and Emma Banks, along with senior utility player Lauren Hudgins could all get some time at various points. Banks played at West Iredell a year ago and is one of three team members from the McDowell basketball team that has just now joined the softball team.
McDowell also returns three All-State outfielders that will evolve into their roles in over the next couple weeks.
Left fielder Candace Cooper (.458 BA, .696 slugging percentage, 4 HR, 22 RBIs) led the team in home runs a year ago.
Junior Dezi Williams will likely settle into center field over the next couple weeks as she begins practicing on a regular basis with basketball season now complete. Williams’ athletic prowess makes her valuable both defensively and at the plate.
Senior Bailey Elliott at this time looks to be the favorite to land in right field. Elliott batted .385 a year ago.
Junior Callie Spratt is a fourth outfielder and could see action at different points of the season. Laynie Hudgins rounds out the roster of position players as she is a prototypical utility player.
Along with the lineup, McDowell returns all of its pitching in 2018.
Senior Lea Conner and junior flame-thrower Kirsten Melvin are back. Connor was District-8 4A Pitcher of the Year, posting a 2.98 ERA and striking out 116 batters in 80 innings pitched. Melvin (2.99 ERA) also posted a nearly identical earned run average in her outings as a sophomore.
Both Conner and Melvin split duties last year and are expected to carry most of the load this season on the mound. Banks and Cooper also can provide additional depth on the pitching staff.
Young returns to the helm as varsity head coach for her third season. There are no changes to the coaching staff as former McDowell standout Kasey Gardin will again assist Young.