DUBLIN — It’s a new era for the Lady Knights of West Bladen on the softball diamond — with a new coach and a revamped lineup — but the immediate future still looks bright.
Joey Autry, who has been a West Bladen and Bladenboro high school coach in the past, as well as West Bladen’s first-ever athletics director some 15 years ago, take over the dugout from Pam Stephens, who helped guide the Lady Knights to a number of conference titles and deep runs in the state’s Class 2-A playoffs.
Lost to graduation from last season’s 12-9 overall and 9-5 Four County Conference squad were all-conference pitcher Nicole Wyatt, all-conference shortstop Morgan Sweeney, outfielder Allison Thompson, and outfielder Amber Bills.
Returning starters include junior catcher Allana Ludlum, junior first-baseman Laikyn Pait, junior second-baseman Kassidy Anderson and junior right-fielder Logan Autry. Junior outfielders Morgan Schumacher and Jenna Dove, along with junior utility player Sophia Singletary, also had numerous starting gigs last season for the Lady Knights.
Coach Autry also said there are a couple of freshmen who will be starters at key positions for West Bladen — Carley Dawson at the hot corner and Conner Brisson at shortstop. In addition, junior Kathryn Schultz is expected to anchor the pitching circle for West Bladen.
“Patience Parker (a sophomore) is a multi-sport athlete who is running track, but will also help us when she can,” he said.
So far, with two games under their belts, Autry is happy with the enthusiasm and confidence being shown.
“We have a bunch of over-believers on this team,” Autry said. “Their greatest strength, I personally believe, won’t be seen until years from now — incredibly talented in more areas than softball.
“They are all catalyst-type players, meaning they are agents of change for their families, community, school and definitely on our athletic teams,” he added. “Phenomenal mental and physical abilities, but their spiritual presence and growth are areas of great strength.”
Another area that gives Autry some flexibility is the fact that many of the Lady Knights can play multiple positions and their willingness to play wherever they are needed.
If there is a weakness, Autry said it’s the fact that the team is in the midst of learning a new system and lingo quickly. But he added that he has a strong coaching staff that includes Wade Pait (infielders and hitting) and Shoul Singletary (pitchers and catchers).
As far as the upcoming Four County Conference season, Autry thinks Heidi Trask may be the team to beat, along with Wallace-Rose Hill. East Bladen should also be a tough opponent.
“The entire league will be improved top to bottom,” he said. “How we handle adversity and choose to believe the best in one another will be key for us.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.