Science Hill softball coach Jerry Higgins has liked the resilience more than the results during the early stages of a rebuilding season.
The Lady Hilltoppers have won 5 of 6 after stumbling to an 0-7 start which wasn’t a complete shock.
Higgins had to replace workhorse pitcher Cloee Smith (Daytona State), sweet-swinging Megan Maupin, outfielders Abby Higgins (Walters State volleyball) and Heather Ellis (Milligan College), catcher Meredith Wright and athletic Ali Jenkins from last year’s team. And shortstop Blair Henry, who missed her junior season with a knee injury, isn’t playing her senior season.
The attrition evokes images of Higgins’ second season at Dobyns-Bennett when the Lady Indians followed his successful debut campaign with an 11-22 record.
“It’s so reminiscent of that year it’s scary,” said Higgins, now coaching his 18th season. “But I was younger then and could handle it.”
Science Hill opened the season with four losses against stringent competition in the Gulf Shores Tournament in Alabama. The Lady ‘Toppers won five of their six games in last week’s East Tennessee Classic. Among the victories was a 6-3 win against Unicoi County, which had beaten the Lady ‘Toppers the previous week.
Junior slugger Mia Edwardson, freshman leadoff batter Gracie Holt and sophomore second baseman Mackenzie Powell were each 2-for-4 in the win against Unicoi.
Holt handles the bat so impressively that Higgins likes her to take pitches until she gets two strikes. She’s tied for second on the team in walks (seven) with sophomore infielder Kasey Bennett.
“(Holt) is a player,” Higgins said.
Powell can tax a pitcher, too. She saw 23 pitches in her first three at-bats of a 10-9 loss to Sullivan Central.
“That’s what they’ve gotta do – wear the other pitcher down,” Higgins said.
Powell wore on Tennessee High’s pitching. She went 2-for-3 with a home run and five RBIs in a 7-6 win against the Lady Vikings.
Bennett had back-to-back two-home run games in wins against Sullivan East and Chuckey-Doak in the ETC. She leads the team with five home runs and her .442 batting average is second on the team behind Edwardson, who’s hitting a blistering .556.
Edwardson missed the Central game with a stomach virus. Still, she leads the team in RBIs (17) and doubles (nine).
“She’s been hitting the fire out of it,” Higgins said.
Edwardson, Powell and freshman third baseman Shayna Price have two home runs apiece. Price, who has drawn a team-high eight walks, hit a three-run home run to highlight a six-run sixth that tied the score, 9-9, in the loss to Central.
“They’re not gonna quit,” Higgins said. “They’re just so young they don’t know any different.”
Sophomore outfielder Makenzie Smith is hitting .306.
Senior catcher Meredith Jackson, a team captain, is solid behind the plate. But she’s working with an inexperienced battery mate in sophomore southpaw Blake West, who is 3-8 with a 4.88 ERA in 51 2/3 innings.
“We have a first-year varsity pitcher and a young team around her,” said Higgins, who noted the starting lineup including three freshmen, four sophomores, a junior and a senior.
The encouraging news for Higgins is that his third team at Dobyns-Bennett – with almost the exact same team – followed the 11-22 season with 31 victories and a sectional berth.