Escaping mediocrity is proving to be difficult for the Harlan Lady Dragons, who have remained locked in the middle of the 13th Region standings for four years.
After improving from 3-14 in 2011 to 15-17 in 2012 and 15-15 in 2013, the Lady Dragons have taken small steps back the last two years, falling to 11-13 in 2014 and 11-15 last spring.
Reversing that trend is the main objective for Scott Lewis entering his sixth season as coach.
“For us to have a really good season, they all have to have good at bats and play as a team,” Lewis said. “We don’t have a bunch of superstars who just focus on softball. If we can but back on errors and play hard we can compete with anybody.”
Losing Madison Noe, the team’s leadoff hitter and top pitcher, and first baseman Anna Karst, the second hitter in the lineup, were the biggest blows suffered by the Lady Dragons since last season. Finding replacements for those two are keys for this year’s success, according to Lewis.
“Maddie and Anna were our 1-2 hitters four years, plus they had great attitudes,” he said. “They left some big holes to fill. They were great players and had great attitudes.”
Madison Brewer, a senior pitcher, infielder and catcher, will take over as the Lady Dragons’ leader and the most experienced player on the Harlan roster.
“Madison can do anything,” Lewis said. “She really seems like she’s ready to play this year.”
Standout sophomore lefthander Ashley Overbay, who posted an 8-3 record on the mound in 2015 in her first season of high school softball, is developing into one of the 13th Region’s top players. She is already off to a great start this spring, pitching a perfect game in a 24-0 win over Oneida Baptist on Friday.
“Ashley is an outstanding ball player, solid in every way — offensively, defensively and pitching,” Lewis said. “She’s a well-rounded player.”
Brewer also won her first game on the mound as the Lady Dragons defeated Bell County 13-1.
“Madison and Ashley each had great opening games on the mound,” Lewis said. “They were both dead on. We’re blessed with two great pitchers.”
Jesse Cochran, a junior, will take over at shortstop to replace Noe, moving from the outfield.
“She can play anywhere on the field, besides pitching. She will be good for us there,” Lewis said. “We have a couple of other girls who can play there, too, with Madison (Brewer).”
Jayda Young, a sophomore, has settled in at third base after seeing quite a bit of action there last season.
“We rotated some people in there last year, but Jayda played there a lot and has looked outstanding in practice so far,” Lewis said.
Brooklyn Collins and Sidney Horton are alternating at first base as Lewis seeks a replacement for Karst.
“We have a hole there we have to fill, and they’ve both come a long way since last year,” he said. “They are fundamentally sound. I think they both are capable of being in the starting lineup.”
Kaitlin Jenkins is back for her senior season at catcher.
“She gives us a lot of experience and kind of holds things together for us back there,” Lewis said.
The outfield lacks experience, and Lewis plans to give several players a shot at earning starting jobs.
“We want to keep everything open, because you never know when one of them will struggle,” Lewis said. “They all need to improve their hitting. They all just need some experience. I think they’ll do well. I’ve just told them to have fun and not put too much pressure on themselves.”
Katelyn Burkhart, a sophomore, is the early favorite to take over in right field.
“She’s athletic and quick, which is important in right field because there’s a lot of area to cover out there. You have to be in shape,” Lewis said.
Payton Bennett, a freshman, has impressed Lewis with her work in center field.
“I didn’t really appreciate the way Payton plays out there until I watched her this spring,” he said. “She hustles out there. She’s the kind of player you like to see.”
Alyssa Moses, a sophomore, takes over for Katie King in left field.
“She quick and she’s athletic,” Lewis said. “She’s still learning out there, and she’s trying to break into that position.”
Harlan hasn’t been to the regional tournament in a decade, a streak Lewis would like to see end, but knocking off Middlesboro or Harlan County to earn one of the two berths from the 52nd District won’t be easy.
“On any given day we can play with anybody. Harlan County is a solid team, and Middlesboro has been at the top for a while. They have a lot of banners flying,” Lewis said. “All our girls seem like they have gotten bigger and stronger. I’ve told the girls not to count themselves out.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134