Softball Preview: Clarke’s Herndon out at least 4 weeks

Posted: March 9, 2013

WINCHESTER — With 11 returning players — including seven starters — from last year’s team that won 23 games, it’s a safe bet Clarke County coach Susan Grubbs hopes her team goes for the gold once again in her silver anniversary season with the Eagles.

Clarke County went unbeaten (14-0) en route to the Bull Run District regular season and tournament title in a record-setting year that saw Grubbs’ team earn its first state tournament berth and set the school record for victories.

But the Eagles won’t have one key returning player at least early in the year after Clarke’s opening practice left the team facing some adversity. In the very first hour of the team’s first practice, senior pitcher Sarah Herndon, The Winchester Star’s 2012 Player of the Year, tore ligaments in her thumb on her left (non-throwing) hand during a sliding drill.

Herndon, the Bull Run District Pitcher of the Year, had surgery two weeks from yesterday and she’s expected to miss at least four weeks, but it could be longer.

Grubbs said Herndon (22-4 with 1.04 earned run average and an area-best 263 strikeouts last year) has already been cleared to resume throwing but the team will need others to fill the void in the pitcher’s circle until she’s ready to go.

“We’re going to rely on our other pitchers and [Carrie] Gibson threw some for us last season,” Grubbs said. “Helen Good will also see time on the mound.”

While not having Herndon in the circle is a big loss, it’s also a blow to the team’s offense. She ranked second on the team in batting .414 and third in RBIs (24). Alex Jackson, who was Herndon’s courtesy runner throughout the year, ranked third on the team with 30 runs.

“She’s a big bat to replace for us,” Grubbs said of Herndon. “She was our No. 2 hitter so it’s not just her arm it’s her hitting. But we’ll have her back for the main part of the district schedule and postseason and we’ll try to make do otherwise.”

Pitching should be a strength for several teams in the Northwestern District with Sherando senior Courtney Reid (11-9, 3.30 ERA, 127 strikeouts), James Wood junior Kierstyn Peacoe (7-11, 3.30 ERA, 120 strikeouts) and Skyline senior Sarah Beamer, a first team all-district selection last season.

Sherando second-year coach Clarence Smith said Beamer still makes the defending champion Hawks the team to beat in a district where runs could be at a premium.

“[Skyline] graduated quite a bit, some of the best players in the district, but they still have Beamer,” Smith said. “She’s the type of pitcher that can hold offenses to one or no runs. They’ll be formidable and they’re the district champions so I’d say the target is on their back.

“And Peacoe, much like Beamer, if she’s hot can keep her team in the game, too.”

Following is a glance at the area teams:

Clarke County

Coach: Susan Grubbs, 25th year

Last year: 23-4, 14-0 Bull Run District regular season and tournament champions, lost in Group A state quarterfinal

Key losses: Kiersten Cochran

Top returning players: Sarah Herndon, Sr. P; Olivia Gore, Sr. OF; Helen Good, Sr. P/IF Becky Smith Sr. SS/IF; Megan Rion, Sr. OF; Lexi Call, Jr. SS/2b; Morgan Ottobre, Jr. OF/1b; Alex Jackson, Jr. C.

Key newcomers: Katey Dunn, Jr. IF

Outlook: With seven returning starters, the Eagles hope to improve on last year’s record-setting season.

Gore, an All-Group A selection, led the area in batting .566 (47 of 83), RBIs (38) and runs (35) and leads a potent offense that returns three other players — Good, Herndon and Call — that drove in at least 22 runs each. The Eagles also return the area’s top five leaders in runs scored. Gore, Rion, Jackson, Good and Smith combined for 141 runs.

That type of offensive production should help offset the loss of Herndon in the circle for the first few weeks of the season.

The Eagles have five players — Herndon, Gore, Good, Smith (.382, 22 runs) and Rion (31 runs) — who have been starters on the team since their freshmen year. Clarke only lost one player to graduation but adds Dunn, a junior transfer from Liberty who can play either corner-infield spot.

Grubbs hopes her veteran team can repeat as district champions.

“Hitting and defense will have to be real staples for us to be successful early,” Grubb said. “Madison returns a lot and their pitcher so they’re going to be right up there. They got to the state semifinals in Division 1. Central was young and I’m sure they’ll only be better.”

Opener: Monday at Handley, 5

Sherando

Coach: Clarence Smith, 2nd year

Last year: 12-10, (6-6 Northwestern)

Key losses: Kennedy Rothemich, Allison Boespflug, and Jena Clark.

Top returning players: Courtney Reid, Sr. P; Haley Miles, Sr. C; Heidi Brown, Soph. 1b; Sara Stickman, Soph. IF; Becky Tanis, Sr. 2b; Michaela Carper, Soph. SS; Katie Seymour, Sr. LF; Megan Leake, Sr. CF; Carly Nixon, So. RF.

Key newcomers: Cierra Lewis, Jr. 3rd; Ashley Saville, Jr. 3b; Allison Bauer, Soph. P/IF

Outlook: With four returning first team All-Northwestern District players — Reid, Miles, Seymour and Nixon — the Warriors hope to continue to build on last year’s 12 victories.

Having Reid back to rely on in the pitcher’s circle and Miles behind the plate gives Sherando experience at two key positions.

“We have our pitcher and everything starts and ends with her,” Smith said. “She was injured [a broken fibula] at end of fall ball, but she looks to be a full go for the start of the season.”

Reid also hit .438 with three homers and 29 RBIs, Seymour hit .424 and Nixon scored a team-high 19 runs so the Warriors return plenty of offensive production.

Sherando’s run of district championships ended last season with Skyline taking over the top spot.

Although the Hawks are the reigning champs, Smith said his veteran team hopes to bring the district title back to Stephens City.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the past five seasons, but this is first year in the last four that we’re not returning as district champions,” Smith said. “We’d like to have that higher seed going into regional play. We have a solid group of returning seniors [five] that are our core. They want to to see if we can make a run at the state tournament.”

Opener: Wednesday at Brentsville, 6

James Wood

Coach: Ted McDaniel, 13th year

Last year: 7-14, 6-6 Northwestern

Key losses: Morgan Sykes, Megan Christian, Amanda Higgins, Anne Zerull.

Top returning players: Kierstyn Peacoe, Jr. P; Haley Whitacre, Jr. 2b; Rachael Largent, Sr. CF; Charlotte Viands, Sr. 1b; McKenzie Garrett, Soph. OF; Laura Gates, Soph. SS; Taylor Rizzari, Soph. OF/P.

Key newcomers: Jessy Shipman, Jr. C; Sara Hoover, Jr. 3b; Tori Armel, So. P/OF; Caitlin Hickey, Soph. OF; Tayler Darr, Jr. 1b.

Outlook: A seven-game skid to end the season has the Colonels eager to take the field.

Peacoe, who shares team captain honors with Largent (.351) and Viands, gives the Colonels plenty of experience in the pitching circle to go along with eight returning players, including five full-time starters and three other spot starters along with Shipman, a transfer from Handley who will catch while Whitacre shifts from behind the plate to second base.

“Last year was a disappointing one for us,” McDaniel said. “We played about .500 ball and then we lost the last six games and then the tournament game. We ended the season with a bad taste so we can’t wait to get back out there.”

Peacoe hit .400 with 18 RBIs and 15 runs scored last year, and she returns as Wood’s leading hitter with the departure of Sykes. Largent (.351) and Viands (.379 with 17 RBIs) give the Colonels some offensive firepower.

James Wood faces a tough non-district schedule with games against Tuscarora, Loudoun County, Clarke County, Fauquier and Musselman (W.Va.), but McDaniel hopes facing that stiff competition prepares his team for the Northwestern.

“[Last year] we just didn’t get the big hit or make the big defensive play,” McDaniel said. “We had twice as many errors in 2012 as 2011. Defense is a big part and if you can’t make the plays when you need to you’re going to lose games.

“Our non-district schedule is brutal, but I think we can be very competitive in the Northwestern District.”

Opener: Monday at Tuscarora, 6

Millbrook

Coach: Mandee Madden, 1st year

Last year: 8-13, 5-7 Northwestern

Key losses: Lacey Costello, Kaitlyn Hendershot, and Corrie Breshears

Top returning players: Megan Atlee, Sr. 1b; Maria Anderson, Sr. OF; Sarah Clark, Soph. 3b/P, Emily Ringer Fr. IF/C; and Natalie Roy, Soph. UT; Sydney Barr, Jr. OF; Mackenzi Steele Jr., P

Key newcomers: Becca Miller, Soph. 2b; Marissa Lee, Jr. OF

Outlook: Madden, a former all-district player at Handley High School who played at Eastern Mennonite University, takes over a young Pioneer team (with eight new varsity players) that’s coming off a 5-7 season in the district last year. Clark returns after a solid freshman season where she batted a team-best .365 with 16 runs and 14 RBIs, but the Pioneers must replace the leadership lost by Costello (.357 with 14 RBIs) and Hendershot (three triples).

“This is my fourth year with the program,” said Madden, who spent the past two seasons as Millbrook’s JV head coach and was a varsity assistant coach three years ago. “We’re hoping to be fundamentally sound and a team that works hard every single game.”

In addition to Clark, Barr scored 16 runs and had seven doubles.

Madden said she hopes her young team can minimize mistakes and not give opposing teams extra outs.

“We want to make [teams] beat us,” Madden said. “I want our girls to focus on us and hopefully we’ll land somewhere in the district [standings] where we should.”

Opener: Monday at Loudoun County, 6

Handley

Coach: Angie Fisher, 2nd year

Last year: 2-17, 2-10

Key losses: Jody Shipman; Jessy Shipman, Destini Wallace, Kristen Ward

Top returning players: Ashley Siburt, Sr. 1b/P; Kara Riley, Sr. 2b; Hannah Lockhart, Soph. P/SS; Logan Gallogly Jr. 3b

Key newcomers: Catie Whittle, Soph. C; Amanda Zedek, Jr. OF; Joceyln Bercian, Sr. SS/OF

Outlook: With seven wins (four in district play) in the past three seasons, the Judges continue to rebuild with a youthful lineup that features just two seniors in Siburt and Riley.

The Judges don’t have a returning pitcher that logged more than 30 innings so that could make it difficult going up against several district teams that return veteran pitchers.

“We’d like to continue to improve from last year,” Fisher said. “We want to be a competitive team in every game.”

The Judges face a non-district schedule that includes Bull Run District champ and Group A, Division 2 state quarterfinalist Clarke County twice, Jefferson (W.Va.) twice, Kettle Run twice and games against Spotswood and Charlottesville. Handley opens district play at home against Millbrook on March 21.

“All of our games are practice leading up to the district tournament,” Fisher said. “We plan on getting better throughout the season. These girls have played for me and they know what to expect. I think we should be able to compete a little bit better than last year with Millbrook and James Wood.”

Opener: Monday vs. Clarke County, 5

— Contact Robert Stocks at rstocks@winchesterstar.com

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1