Lady Cyclones young but loaded with talent
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
When the 2020 season kicked off, the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones came out of the gate playing some really good softball after a strong pre-season.
But like every other team, the high hopes that head coach Ken Hardin had for that team came crashing down like a shelf full of porcelain dishes as the hopes of completing the season were crushed by an ugly virus called COVID-19.
Move ahead one year and the Lady Cyclones know what they have done against each other in intrasquad contests but are anxious to see what the product holds when they take to the softball diamond against other competition.
“We have used the term redshirt freshman, redshirt sophomore with all of them,” Hardin said just a mere week before the opening pitch of the 2021 season.
“We had a pretty good pre-season last year and that is what is going to hurt us this year is no pre-season at all and not having a clue and basically throwing things together before we start.
“Everybody else is in the same shape. We came out and played really well early last year so hopefully, we can do the same thing this year.”
Any coach will tell you when asked that it’s one thing to practice hard against each other but the game completely changes when an umpire is standing behind home plate calling balls and strikes and the nerves are flowing especially in the younger players.
“We are throwing plenty live and letting them throw to people but there is nothing like having an umpire back there and there is nothing like the live game action and having people in the stands,” added Hardin “It makes a difference. Just being at practice and having nobody there but your teammates makes you relax a little bit more.
“Those early pre-season scrimmages allow you to get the nerves out and you just worry at the end of the day they are all going to be nervous. I think that we have done the right things in practice and have them ready we just have to see if it will come through for us.”
One might think that with a one-year layoff that it might take a while for teams to adjust to playing live and therefore the competitiveness may take a little while to settle in.
However, Hardin sees softball being a game that might not fall into that category especially since many of the players have been seething to get back out in the dirt to play the game they love.
“I think it will be competitive,” Hardin stated. “Coach (Jeff) Pierce made the best analogy when he talked about football season. Early in the year in football, they had a few more penalties and a couple of things like that and that was all the teams just not our bunch.
“I think you will see a few mistakes made in plays here and there that will be made late in the season that you won’t see early. I think one thing about it is the kids are so ready to play where they missed that one season they are going to come out and play really hard and that’s everybody – every team in the area.”
For the Lady Cyclones, the season will flow as their pitching flows as Hardin has three outstanding options to chose from as far as the pitching circle is concerned.
“Our number one is Madisun Pritchard. She is a junior and threw it really well last year and I expect great things out of her. She has good control and is throwing the ball really hard right now and we will pretty much go as she goes,” Hardin stated.
“We have a couple behind her – Maddie O’Quinn will be our number two and she throws strikes. If we play defense behind her, we can be pretty good with her out there too.
“Molly Johnson will probably be three and they will be our three main ones. Molly is just a freshman who hasn’t pitched a whole lot but she has worked so hard and she has good speed. We just have to get her confidence and control up and when we get that, she will be as good as any of them.”
Hardin was asked to analyze his defensive setup for the upcoming season where it appears flexibility is going to be the key for the Lady Cyclones.
“The infield right now, Kallista DePrimo will play first base along with Kenidy Harris where she had the ACL will play first a little bit until we can get her back behind the plate where she wants to be,” Hardin said.
“Around the infield, I have three kids that can play any of the other three positions. We still don’t know where we are going to put them. I think that Maddie (O’Quinn) and Ember Jensen are two of the best second basemen in the area but neither one of them will probably end up there.
“They will probably end up at short and third in different situations.
“Madisun can play short and third,” Hardin continued. “Madisun is probably the best third baseman around and she will probably end up there when she is not pitching. That is probably where she will play in college and she is not afraid of anything over there and that’s what you need there in this game.
“Behind the plate to start out with, we will have (Molly) Johnson and she has done really well in pre-season. When we get Kenidy back, Molly will play an integral part of our team because she can play any position on the field and you are liable to see her at any position on any given night.
She knows that and is okay with that as long as she is out there. She has done a lot to impress us.”
When moving to the outfield, the Lady Cyclones will be looking at a group of young players that can cover a lot of territory with their speed and bring some sting to the plate with their bats.
“The leader in our outfield will be Cheyenne Poiroux who is a sophomore,” Hardin said. “She is one that we refer to as a redshirt freshman. She can flat out go and get it and has good range and she sees the ball off the bat really well and gets a good jump. She has made some plays just about on the infield calling people off that we just look at one another as coaches and can’t believe it.
“She will tear down a fence to go and get a ball.
“In left field, you have Emma O’Quinn out there, another freshman,” said Hardin as he scanned through his options. “We are going to be so young this year but that’s a good thing. Emma has played really well for us and is another kid that could be anywhere on the field for us.
“We have a rotation where she is at second and she is our backup catcher right now basically until Kenidy gets back so a very valuable and versatile player for us.
“Right field hasn’t been set yet. Either Emma Pendergrass or Mailey Ingram which both of them bring a whole lot to the table. Mailey is fast as lightning and if she puts the ball on the ground she is probably going to be safe and Emma hits the ball so hard,” commented Hardin.
“We don’t know where we are going to go with that. We have three games the first week and then a tournament at Wing Deer. I think we are going to use the tournament at Wing Deer as a play day just to see who needs to be where and what we are doing.”
Finally, the Lady Cyclone skipper was asked what the Lady Cyclone following can expect when Elizabethton steps to the plate on the offensive side of the scorebook.
“Right now, the big hitters will be Prichard in the three hole and DePrimo in the four, and Harris probably five or six depending on where she is at when she gets back and gets that knee good where she can trust it,” reflected Hardin.
“Pritchard and DePrimo have been absolutely killing it in practice. They are not just hitting the long ball but they are hitting shots everywhere and they are going both ways with it.
“We will have Jensen in the leadoff and that kid has picked up a lot of power this year and is hitting a lot of hard line-drives so I am expecting a lot of doubles and things out of her and a very good baserunner,” continued Hardin.
“Maddie (O’Quinn) will be in the two-hole and she is a great contact hitter and puts the ball in play. She is probably one of the smartest players on the team. She takes over the defense and she will probably end up taking over at shortstop for that reason. Molly and Emma, my two little mighty mites, can hit the ball really well.”
With a lot of unknowns, Hardin still sees Unicoi County and East as two strong threats in the conference and threw in Johnson County who according to Hardin is loaded with talent including two left-handed pitchers who create a whole different beast in the way they deliver the softball.
Elizabethton opens the season on Monday, March 15, 2021, on the road at Grainger for a 5:30 pm start and on Tuesday, the Lady Cyclones will be at Sullivan Central which also starts at 5:30 pm.