West Stanly’s ‘drive for five’ in softball underway with wins

Published 1:56 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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The West Stanly High School softball program has been among the most successful in the history of the sport in North Carolina.

West Stanly entered the 2024 softball season tied with East Surry and Alexander Central for the most state championships with six. The Colts matched East Surry’s run of four in a row with last season’s title, and have the chance to set state records for most titles and most in a row.

Six seniors graduated from last year’s team, but five starters return: seniors Lilly Hartsell (P/IF), Brooklyn Lovin (P/IF), Aliyah Rush (OF/IF) and Kristen Smith (2B), along with sophomore outfield Payton Watson.

“Our players are resilient and are putting in the effort each and every day to become a unit,” West head coach Emily Smith said. “We look for each of these returners to be leaders on and off the field. Some of them will be adapting to new positions and roles, and I am excited to see them take the challenges and work to make their team better.”

Smith said West has added in more newcomers than in previous years, adding she has “enjoyed getting to know each of them and seeing the great work ethic they possess. Our lineup will feature several underclassmen in it, each of whom I have high expectations for and anticipate seeing continued growth from throughout our season.”

West takes on several challenging non-conference opponents along with the challenges of the Rocky River Conference. The Colts will take on Oak Grove, Scotland County and McMichael the first week of April, along with county rivals North and South Stanly.

“Our schedule is again filled with tough opponents and we are looking forward to challenging ourselves and improving every day,” Smith said. “We always strive to have a tough strength of schedule, and I believe that is the best way you can learn and grow as a team. We will focus one game at a time and look forward to every player in our program bringing their best effort each day to help our team reach its greatest potential.”

Smith said she and her coaching staff have been asked often about going for a fifth straight state title, saying while that is the team’s goal “we have to stay focused on the day-to-day and each game we play. Staying engaged each day at practice and bringing intensity to every game we play will be keys for us. We are very grateful for the tradition of West Stanly Softball and I am proud of each of our players and how they represent us on the field and in the classroom. They exemplify excellence in every single thing they do. I am thankful every day to coach at West Stanly and to be on this journey with our team, through the highs and lows, working towards something greater than we could ever accomplish individually on our own.”

West opened the season with wins at Sun Valley, 23-2, and at home versus Central Academy, 4-1.

The Colts then hosted North Stanly Friday and rallied for a 6-1 win.

Against the Colts, Lilly Hartsell earned the win on the mound, allowing no earned runs on four hits with four walks and 10 strikeouts.

North (3-1) took the lead in the top of the fifth when Allie Morgan singled and later scored on a Kylie Speight RBI single to left.

West took the lead in the bottom of fifth on a two-run home run from Kennedy Austin, then added four runs in the the bottom of the sixth. Aliyah Rush doubled and later scored on a Brooklyn Lovin RBI ground out, then RBI singles from Madi Whitley and Kristen Smith along with an Austin RBI double gave the Colts a five-run lead.

The Colts return to conference play this week with a doubleheader Tuesday against Monroe, and road games Wednesday and Thursday at Parkwood and Forest Hills, respectively.

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.

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