By Chad Dixon
The Central High Lady Devils’ softball team has been region tournament champions or season champions over the past six years in Class 6A and 7A. Before the success occurred, then Head Coach Bobby Cook and current coach Mitchell Holt decided the only way to be successful is to “take pride in development,” Holt said.
Over the six-year period, Central has sent several softball players to division one schools on scholarship.
“There are years where we see many talented seniors leave and the underclassmen hear that ‘Central will decline’ and they use that as motivation to prove their detractors wrong,” Holt stated. “Winning is a mindset and culture – our success is tied to the work ethic of the players and not just coaching softball, but teaching life lessons.”
Central won the Class 7A Region 4 division and tournament in 2017 and posted a 30-22 overall record with a perfect 4-0 regular season region record. The team was led by their ace Gracie Deaton. The University of Alabama-Huntsville commit won 26 games with a 2.67 ERA. She struck out 145 batters over 191 1/3rd innings. Her 1.36 WHIP (walks and hits per inning) led the team and the region. Holt expects a better Deaton in her senior season after taking the fall off from travel ball.
“She looks really refreshed. Her work ethic separates her from many other players. She is always putting in more time with her pitches and does additional work outs; she is a true team leader and example,” Holt added.
Deaton did not start 2017 as an offensive player, but she finished with a .378 batting average with 31 RBI, six homeruns and slugged .521. Holt stated that she worked over the fall to increase her velocity and added her change-up has progressively gotten better every season.
Backing up Deaton in the rotation will be a mix of Kyleigh McHargue, Desalynn Nesbitt, Nayelica Diaz and Breanna Leininger. The group only combined for 44 innings in 2017, Holt identifies the rest of the rotation as a work in progress.
“We know this is Gracie’s final season and we also have to look to the future. We may take some lumps this year, but it will benefit us in the future. I do like this group because we have several options. We have velocity and movement from both sides, so we can mix it up and see what works,” Holt said.
Central will be playing with a young group. The only two seniors are Deaton and 2B/OF Tatyana Harris. Harris will focus primarily on second base in her senior season. She hit .382 and had an on-base percentage of .418 in her junior season. She batted over .400 in her sophomore season.
“She deserves the chance at second and I think she can handle it. She has tremendous speed and can help us win a game in so many different ways,” Holt said.
Freshman Madison Hurt will start at shortstop. Even as a freshman, she has two years of varsity experience. Also with two years of experience, Shelby Newsome will start at third base. A mix of McHargue and sophomore Jaleigh Hardin will catch and play first base. McHargue hit .351 in 2017 with 30 RBI, four homeruns and eight doubles. Hardin hit .333 in 45 at-bats.
In 2017, Central batted .332 as a team with a .415 on-base percentage. They scored 282 runs through 52 games. They stole 176 bases with an 89.3 percentage rate. They will look to keep their streak of region titles going when they begin their season on Feb. 19 against Beauregard at home. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at Central High School.