By Chris Parker
Wheatland softball will have a vastly different look in 2018 with the graduation of a four-year starting battery in Madi Sutt (catcher) and Valory Dampier (pitcher). Both were first-team all-conference selections in their senior seasons. Sutt was also the Polk County League Player of the Year and Class 1 Second-Team All-State.
“(We will miss) their leadership and consistency,” Wheatland head coach Pat Dougherty said. “From day one, Madi and Valory set the tone, along with four-year starter Gabby Ginnings, that they were going to show up and work hard. You didn’t have to worry about bad days with those two; they were always consistent in their effort and attitude toward the game and their teammates, and obviously (we will miss) the production. They were also very good at what they did.”
Even though the decorated duo have graduated, their impact will continue to be felt around Wheatland Softball.
“I know we have/had a lot of younger girls looking up to them as role models. Hopefully they have left a lasting impression on the younger girls in how to prepare, perform and carry themselves on and off the field,” Dougherty said.
Junior Kennedy Griffin will be the team’s leader this year. Last year, Griffin earned first-team all-conference honors after hitting .487 with 30 runs scored, 25 stolen bases and 20 runs batted in.
“She (Griffin) will be expected to anchor the defense, and make our offense go. She will move out of the leadoff spot and into the three-hole, so much will be expected in terms of driving in runs,” Dougherty said. “Our plan is that KJ will put in her time at shortstop. She is an extremely good shortstop, and a very good leader from that spot. If needed though, she may be called on to pitch as well. We are very green at that spot, obviously, and she did have some success there this summer. She may catch a little as well, which is another position in which she could excel.”
Sophomore Taylor Hunt is the final returning all-conference player for Wheatland. She played second base last season and hit .434 with 27 runs scored, 20 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases. This year she will likely play multiple positions, but catching will be a focus for her along with time at shortstop and pitching.
“She will be looked at as a leader on this team and, as her confidence continues to grow, that should be a natural progression,” Dougherty said.
In addition to Griffin and Hunt, sophomore Heavenly Lewton is a prime candidate to be the team’s go-to pitcher this year after playing centerfield and hitting .33 with 20 runs scored and 14 runs batted in as a freshman.
“She (Lewton) is all in, and has been working hard,” Dougherty said. “Lewton doesn’t have a lot of experience, but had some success over the summer. I believe she can handle the brunt of the load in respect to the pitching duties. She had a good year at the plate last year as a freshman, so we look for her to really take off and have a huge year for us.”
Seniors Zoey Taylor (first base) and Daisy Shaddox (second base/outfield) along with freshman Avery Adcock (third base) are all candidates to round out the infield. Taylor is recovering from a knee injury, but when healthy is a threat in the middle of the order with the speed to steal bases.
The most likely players to see time in the outfield are: Samantha Taylor (senior), Kaleigh Gautieri (sophomore) and Allyson Keith (sophomore). Taylor and Gautieri are also candidates to play on the infield.
Several players have stood out the Dougherty for the off-season improvement.
“Daisy Shaddox, Kaleigh Gautieri, Allyson Keith, Avery Adcock (have stood out in the off-season),” Dougherty said. “Shaddox and Gautieri because of the strides they’ve made hitting. If they can be consistent at the plate, we could be in decent shape. Keith and Adcock, just because you are always a little curious as to how the rookies are going to respond, and they did a great job for us this summer.”
Expectations for the 2019 version of Wheatland Softball are a bit of a moving target in the early going.
“We could be very competitive if things fall in place like they should and we stay healthy. If they don’t, we may struggle a little early. Either way, by the end of the season, we should be pretty solid,” Dougherty said.
Wheatland will travel to Hermitage on Aug. 29 for a jamboree with the host Lady Hornets and Fair Play before opening the season on Aug. 30 at home against Dadeville.