Last softball season in the Class 4 Northwestern District came down to a three-team race.

And with James Wood, Sherando and Fauquier returning the bulk of those squads, including their standout pitchers, those three figure to be battling for the top spot again if they are allowed to play.

Regular-season games were originally supposed to begin this week, but because of coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, the Virginia High School League has delayed the first day of competition until at least March 30. On Wednesday, all area schools declared they would not hold classes until at least April 13 and therefore no athletic activities will be held during that time.

Only one game separated regular-season champion James Wood (10-2), Sherando (9-3) and Fauquier (9-3) last season. The Colonels and Warriors split a pair of regular-season games, with James wood clinching the regular-season title with an 8-2 win in the second matchup. Fauquier split with Sherando in the regular season and beat the Warriors (semifinals) and Colonels (title game) in the district playoffs.

Each of those teams return their standout pitcher. James Wood senior Ivy Rosenberry is headed to Virginia Tech on a scholarship. Sherando senior Lauren Smith has won 20 games over the past two seasons and Fauquier junior Meghan Harrington beat both the Warriors (four-hitter) and Colonels (two-hit shutout) in the postseason.

“You never really know, but Fauquier, Sherando and us you would look at the top tier,” said James Wood coach Todd Baker, who also praised the rest of the league. “... In my opinion, it will be Fauquier, Sherando and James Wood battling for the top this year.”

“There’s a Division I kid over in the circle at James Wood and the kid at Fauquier is just as good,” said Sherando coach Clarence Smith, who also praised the competition from top to bottom. “... I would love to sit here and say we’re sitting here in the driver’s seat and that I fully expect to run away with the No. 1 seed. I would love for everything to break that way, but I fully expect that we’re going to be playing meaningful games all of the way up to the end of the season.”

“I think it’s going to stay similar as to last year,” said Handley coach David Stokes, who was curious how Liberty would rebound from a 6-6 district mark. “James Wood, with Ivy, is going to be strong. … I think it’s going to come down to Fauquier and James Wood again, but don’t count out Sherando.”

Rosenberry, the reigning Winchester Star Player of the Year, leads the Colonels both in the circle and at the plate.

As a pitcher, Rosenberry went 16-6 with a miniscule 0.75 ERA. She struck out more than twice as many batters (200) than any other pitcher in the area.

“She’s throwing very hard, probably mid to high 60’s with great movement,” Baker said. “She dominated Strasburg [in a scrimmage]. She pitched three innings and allowed one ground ball. The rest were strikeouts.”

At the plate, she’s just as devastating. She hit .500 and led the area with seven homers and 26 RBIs. She did all of that despite being walked 26 times, many of those intentionally.

She’ll move up to second in the batting order behind speedy Olivia Miller (.318 average, 21 runs, 13 RBIs, 6 steals).

“You could make the argument that that’s the best 1-2 punch in the region,” Baker said.

Sydney Orndorff and Kylie Prusik are battling to start behind the plate.

Afton Sykes (.356, 18 RBIs) will start at first. Miller and Izzy McKee are competing at second base and both can play in the outfield, too. Freshman Sadie Kittoe will start at shortstop, though McKee and Laken Whipkey are in the mix. Whipkey and Georgia Carter are battling at third base.

Caitlyn Shutts (13 runs, 7 steals), who also can catch, appears to have the center field slot won. Mackenzie McCarty (.365, 16 runs) will hold down right field and Miller and McKee can play in left. Sophia Mezzatesta is a utility player who could get at-bats as a pinch-hitter. Katlyn McGeachy has tremendous speed and is often on base running for Rosenberry, who reached base nearly two of every three plate appearances last season.

Jenna Burkhamer (who batted .393 and will hit cleanup) and Whipkey will get some time in the circle.

Baker likes the balance of his squad. “I’ve been at James Wood for awhile and you have your starting nine typically,” he said. “You never ever look around in the fourth inning, go to the bench and feel confident. This year I feel like I can go to the bench and the girl will pop a double or hit a home run for me. We’re going to have a great bench this year that I can work off of, which I’ve never had really at James Wood.”

Smith leads a potent Sherando lineup in the circle and she’s also a big stick at the plate.

Smith went 11-5 last season with a 2.41 ERA and 98 strikeouts. She batted .429, drove in 24 runs and was one of four returning Warriors who belted five homers.

Smith said he has noticed a difference in Smith after she made a big choice.

“She decided over the summer that she was not going to pursue softball in college,” he said. “I feel like that sort of liberated her. She seems to be in a really good place. She’s still looking forward to the opportunity to compete this spring. She’s got some personal goals and team goals she is trying to achieve. She was the first one to show up for tryouts and the last one to leave. She’s all in.”

The Warriors have some players that can put up big offensive numbers.

Center fielder Blake Conner (.471, 17 RBIs, area-best 30 runs, 5 home runs), catcher Veronika Lord (.450, 19 RBIs, 20 runs, 5 homers), shortstop Sierra Strosnider (.397, 21 RBIs, 26 runs, 5 homers) and first baseman Isabel Hall (.375, 13 runs, 4 homers) wrecked opposing pitchers last season.

Emma Chunta is back at third base and then Sherando will have some new faces. Freshman Madison Harris will start at second. Faith Salyers (left) and Makayla Campbell (right) will flank Conner.

Smith has seven seniors on the team, six who are returning starters. “They’ve heard my voice for a long time and that’s nice,” he said. “When we come in to practice we don’t necessarily have to start at the fundamentals and work ourselves up.”

Stokes will be looking to rebound, but will have to do so without his daughter Meghan, who led the area in hitting (.571) and went a respectable 4-7 in the circle for a 5-16 squad. The Judges did not have anyone else hit better than .300.

Handley returns catcher/outfielder Isabel Mammano, pitcher/outfielder Logan Krupsky (10 RBIs), first baseman/pitcher Talley Sublett (10 RBIs) and Sara Blowers (utility/pitcher).

Appropriately named Madisen Newcomer (SS/C) heads a list of new faces in the lineup. Laura Hogan (3B), Hailey Gaudet (2B/OF) round out the infield. Jessica Krupsky, Leigh Hernandez and Fairuza Fishel are in the mix in the outfield, which often will be aligned based on who is pitching or catching.

Logan Krupsky, Sublett and Blowers will handle the bulk of the work in the circle.

“I think hitting is going to be our strong suit this year,” Stokes said. “I’m really liking what I see from the younger players from a hitting perspective. … We’re extremely young and I really like this group of younger players coming up.”

New Millbrook coach Rich Pell has a lot of new faces, including four freshmen, but he is glad to have his daughter Sophie on the roster. Sophie Pell, a shortstop and pitcher, swings a powerful bat, with a .396 average and 21 runs scored last season.

Emma Badnek, (.312, 12 runs) returns at first base. Jazmyne Scott (3B) and Ashlyn Philyaw (2B) complete the infield. Mackenzie Edwards is behind the plate. Grace Badnek will play in center field, with Braelyn Carey, Breanna Daggett and Zoe Crowl battling for the other outfield spots.

Emily Jeffries, Philway, Sophie Pell and Paige Flinchum make up Pell’s pitching-by-committee staff.

“We’ve got a good core group of girls,” Rich Pell said. “A lot of the younger girls are familiar with the game and how it is supposed to be played. We are practicing at a higher level and more intense level and the girls have taken to that pretty quickly.”

In the Bull Run District, new Clarke County coach Fly Lambert knows his Eagles will be facing some stiff competition. Page County advanced to the Class 2 semifinals last season and Madison County took it a step farther in making the title game. Both teams were knocked off by eventual champion Richlands.

“It’s going to be tough softball every night that we go out there,” Lambert said. “It’s not an easy night any night that we play.”

Lambert does return some experience.

Center fielder Alyssa Hoggatt provided a big bat, with a .453 average, 21 RBIs and 16 runs scored last season.

“Alyssa is a great young lady and she works hard at her game,” Lambert said. “She spends a lot of time working on her hitting and she’s gotten stronger since last year. The ball is flying around the park when she swings the bat. She has a lot of power this year.”

Kacie Turner and Abby Peace return to the circle. Peace (14 RBIs) will split time at first base with Kiley Ramey (10 RBIs) when she’s not pitching. Turner (.312, 11 RBIs, 22 runs) was one of the Eagles’ top bats last season.

Hannah Trenary, who had taken two seasons off after an outstanding freshman season, is battling with Chloe Unger at second base. Turner will be at shortstop when she is not pitching. Bridgett Quinceno will play either third base or shortstop (when Turner is pitching). Bella Stem will play at third when Quinceno is at shortstop.

Haley Farmer (13 runs) will be behind the plate. Joining Hoggatt in the outfield is Ellie Taylor (.302) in left and Belle Reid in right. Kileigh Smallwood (utility), Brook Kirk (catcher/outfield) and Caralynn Utterback (outfield) could also see action.

Lambert liked what he saw from his team in its only scrimmage against Washington (W.Va.). “I was really impressed with the way we played that day. Abby Peace and Kacie Turner threw the ball well. We played eight innings and through like seven it was 1-0 [Washington]. It was a very competitive game.”

James WoodCoach: Todd Baker, sixth year

Last year: 16-6 overall, 10-2 Class 4 Northwestern District regular-season champions.

Key losses: Rebecca Boone, Haley Kaiser, Emma Van Horn, Hanna Davis.

Top returning players: Ivy Rosenberry (Sr., P); Afton Sykes (Sr., IF); Mackenzie McCarty (Sr., OF); Olivia Miller (Jr., IF).

Top newcomers: Sadie Kittoe (Fr., IF/OF); Izzy McKee (Fr., IF/OF); Sydney Orndorff (Fr., C/OF).

Baker’s outlook: “It’s probably one of the better teams I’ve had all-around. I’ve had a lot of talent over the years with the Lindsey Andersons, Lanie Spielmans, Laura Kings and all of those kids. But, No. 1 through No. 14, I feel confident in this team. As always I think we can compete to go all of the way. That’s always our goal. Realistically, we’ll battle in the district. It’s a very talented team, but we’re very young also. You have that thought in your mind, ‘I know how good we are, but we’re young.’ We’ll just have to find our way. I think we may be a slow starter, but I think we’ll be a team to reckon with at the end once we find our way.”

SherandoCoach: Clarence Smith, ninth year

Last Year: 13-9 overall, 9-3 Class Northwestern District

Key Losses: Brooke Moses, Sarah Rhinehardt, and Ashton Clark.

Top returning players: Lauren Smith (Sr., P), Veronika Lord (Sr., C), Sierra Strosnider (Sr., SS), Blake Conner (Sr., CF), Isabel Hall (So., 1B).

Top newcomers: Madison Harris (Fr., IF), Makayla Campbell (Fr., OF), Jess Greene (Fr., P).

Smith’s outlook: “We return a lot of experience and we have girls with a lot of accolades and personal accomplishments, but the fact of the matter is we have a very talented district this year. … I don’t think we can overlook anyone. … I think we have the experience and talent to place first, but I also know we have some things to work on. Right now with our flaws, we could finish fourth or fifth. It’s the matter of the coaching staff helping these girls and putting them into positions where they can succeed. If we are able to do that, they will capitalize on those opportunities and we’ll be just fine.”

HandleyCoach: David Stokes, seventh year

Last year: 5-16 overall, 1-11 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: Meghan Stokes, Neysha Washington.

Top returning players: Logan Krupsky (Sr., P); Sara Blowers (So., P/U); Talley Sublett (So., 1B); Isabel Mammano (Sr., C).

Top newcomers: Madisen Newcomer (So., SS); Laura Hogan (FR., 3B).

Stokes’ outlook: “I don’t want to say that we’re not going to be improved, but when you lose a really good hitter — Meghan has always been a really good hitter for four years at Handley — it’s going to be hard to replace that. She was the leading hitter, led in RBIs and stolen bases. I’m not sure if we’re there, yet. Collectively, I think we’re going to be improved in hitting. … We will be alright.”

MillbrookCoach: Rich Pell, first year

Last season: 2-17 overall, 1-11 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: Danielle Vanderhoof

Top returning players: Sophie Pell (Sr., SS/P); Emma Badnek (Sr., 1B).

Top newcomers: Mackenzie Edwards (Fr., C); Jazmyne Scott (Fr., 3B/C); Grace Badnek (Fr., OF); Emily Jeffries (Fr., P/OF).

Pell’s outlook: “I’m positive. I’m excited to see what we can do. The only problem we have in practice is we can’t simulate the pitchers that we are going to face since we don’t have that caliber of pitching. That’s going to be the wild card. I know we are going to put the bat on the ball. I just don’t know how well. We’re going to field the ball a lot better than we have in the past and we’re going to pitch better because we have more than one this year. … I see us being a lot more competitive than we have been in the last couple of years.”

Clarke CountyCoach: Fly Lambert, first year

Last year: 6-15 overall, 4-6 Bull Run District

Key losses: None

Top returners: Alyssa Hoggatt, (Jr., OF); Kacie Turner (So., P/SS); Kiley Ramey (Sr., SS/1 (SS, 1B); Abigail Peace (So., P/1B).

Top newcomers: Hannah Trenary (Sr., IF); Brook Kirk, (Jr., C); Bella Stem (So., U); Cara Utterback (Jr., U).

Lambert’s outlook: “We’re going to have possibly five sophomores in the starting lineup at any time. We’re going to be young, but I would never use that as an excuse because the girls have played a lot of softball. … The girls know my expectations. We’re going to go out to win and play hard. To be fundamentally sound and to play hard is what I expect from them.

— Contact Walt Moody at

wmoody@winchesterstar.com

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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