Three-time defending softball state champion West Stanly prepares to defend crown

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The recent success of the West Stanly softball program has moved the Colts as a name mentioned among the elite fastpitch teams all time in North Carolina.

With five state championships, including the last three seasons in a row, the Colts are tied for third with South Granville for most fastpitch titles. A fourth straight crown would tie West with Alexander Central and East Surry for the most all time.

West also is 78-26 in the state playoffs, ranking them fourth overall. The Colts’ winning percentage, 75%, is tied with North Davidson for the third highest mark all time.

The Colts were scheduled to open the season Tuesday night against Southwestern Randolph.

“We are so appreciative of the rich history of softball tradition that we are a part of at West Stanly,” West Stanly head coach Emily Smith said. “We celebrate that every chance we get, and just recently we enjoyed recognizing Coach Wesley Kidd and the 2013 West Stanly team that captured a state title for their 10-year anniversary.”

Only two players graduated from last season’s team which went 29-4 and claimed the 2A state title: Ashlyn Hughes, who started four years at first base, and Kaylyn Little, who is playing Div. I softball with Winthrop University. Hughes was also the only player who was in the same starting position from 2021 to 2022.

“Everyone else was playing a position or role new to their West Stanly varsity softball career, and I couldn’t be more proud of how each one of them responded to the challenge,” Smith said.

Smith said she was “excited to return the remainder of last year’s team. We are blessed with both great talent and depth in our program That is a testament to the overall commitment that our players have to the sport.”

Senior pitcher Lily Huneycutt was a stalwart in the circle for West last season, winning 27 games with 251 strikeouts to 19 walks for a 13.2 strikeouts to walk ratio.

West is solid up the middle with shortstop Teagan Ritchie and second baseman Kristen Smith. Ritchie, a senior, led the state with 18 home runs while Smith, a junior, had 58 hits, which also was the most in the state in 2022.

The Colts’ head coach said she considered all 11 upperclassmen on the team as returning starters.

“They all have that level of experience and skill. I could go one-by-one and rave about what they bring to our program both on and off the field. It’s not often do you have seven seniors on your team, and this is such a great group to be able to work with every single day,” Smith said. “They have been great leaders and helped us define the culture that we want West Stanly softball to be known for.”

Seniors for West include Huneycutt, Ritchie, Rebecca Clark (OF), Sadee Lahwon (3B), Payton Little (1B/3B/C), Carmen McRae (C) and Elizabeth Ingle (1B/3B/C).

Returning for the Colts for their junior seasons are Smith, Brooklyn Lovin (OF/LHP/1B), Lilly Hartsell (OF/P/3B) and Aaliyah Rush (OF).

One important newcomer to the team this season, Smith said, is freshman Payton Watson (OF).

“She brings speed, athleticism and a good arm to our outfield depth,” Smith said.

West’s non-conference schedule will be challenging, the West coach added. The Colts will host Mooresville, South Caldwell and North Davidson, along with home games against local rivals South Stanly and Piedmont.

Regarding the chance to win a sixth title for the program, Smith said the team “wants to focus more on the journey rather than the destination. Every year the goal is going to be a state title, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. What we have to do is focus on getting better each day at practice, challenge ourselves in games and trust that at the end of the day we have prepared as best we could for those pressure moments in the postseason when they arrive.”

Smith said “having high expectations comes from having had success with previous teams and from having talent within your program. We are grateful those things are true of our program, but we still have to go out and compete and work hard every single day. I am just filled with joy and gratitude to be able to coach alongside some fantastic assistant coaches and to lead a group of girls that are talented, well-rounded and play the game the right way.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

email author More by Charles