There aren’t many schools in the 13th Region that boast a tradition of success in softball as rich as the Middlesboro Lady Jackets.
From 1999 to 2009 the Lady Jackets brought home eleven straight district championships to go along with a few deep runs in the state tournament and an All ‘A’ state championship. The last few season saw the program decline a bit with three straight first round losses in the district tournament.
The 2013 Middlesboro softball team appears to be putting the program back on solid footing. The Lady Jackets have gone 5-1 in district play to earn the top seed for the 52nd District Tournament, which starts on Monday at MHS. It’s the first time Middlesboro has been the number one seed since they last won the tournament in 2009.
The Lady Jackets closed out the regular season with a 10-0 win over Corbin on Thursday and will take an 18-9 record into post-season play.
While several younger players have contributed to the team’s turnaround this season — especially two sophomores and a freshman in the pitcher’s circle — the leadership of the seniors has paved the way for Middlesboro’s success.
Prior to Thursday’s game, the Lady Jackets paid tribute to their six seniors. Megan Prater, Kelsie Hensley, Carissa Padgett, Savanna Miracle, Charlesa Witherspoon and Christina Reynolds were each introduced to the crowd with their families and presented with posters, flowers and other gifts.
Here’s what coach Luster Powers had to say about each of those girls before their final regular season home game:
“Megan’s a three-year starter in center field and does a heck of a job out there. In my opinion she probably reads the ball off the bat better than anybody in the region. She’s hard-nosed and goes right after it. She’s also our lead-off hitter and she’s worked hard at it to turn herself into a pretty good one. I’m real proud of her, she’s done an excellent job for us.
“She’s actually a four-year starter, as a freshman she started in the outfield. When I took over we had lost a catcher to graduation, Kelsie had caught for me in middle school so I put her back there. She’s been back and forth between catcher and outfield this year and she’s done real well adapting back to the outfield. We’ve got her hitting in the two hole and she does a great job. She bunts well, moves runners when we need her to do that and she can actually hit the ball real well. She’s just an outstanding, good kid.
“Carissa is a four-year starter at shortstop and she’s the backbone of our defense in the infield. I don’t want to brag on her too much because I’m afraid I’ll jinx her, but she’s pretty much automatic. If it’s hit to her, she’s going to field it most of the time. She’s struggled a little bit hitting, but I think she’s going to come out of it going into the district. She hits the ball hard when she hits it, but she has just lost a little confidence at the plate. I think we can get it back for her.
“Savanna was a starter off and on last year and she’s worked real hard to earn that spot at first base this year. She’s done a tremendous job, probably the most improved defensive player we’ve got. As of right now she’s leading the team in hitting so she had really come on in her senior season. That’s what you want your seniors to do is step up and be leaders in all aspects of the game and Savanna seems to be doing that. I’m real proud of her.”
“She’s a two-year player that has worked hard and improved tremendously. When Bailey (Hensley) went out in the second game of the season I moved Charlesa into the starting spot in the outfield and she played real well there. About two weeks ago she lost one in the sun and it hit her in the eye. She had to have four stitches and hasn’t played since. But she’s been a great kid and it just shows hard she worked to get to that spot.
“She’s a first-year player that had never played before. She has improved tremendously, I just wish she had came out her freshman year. Sometimes as a coach you like a challenge to see where you can get a player that has never played before and see how good they can be by the time they graduate. Christina would have been one of those projects because she has come leaps and bounds from day one practicing. She’s a great all-around kid with a great personality. She doesn’t get to play a whole lot, but the hard work she’s put in knowing this is only year is just amazing.”
The Lady Jackets will be try to keep their successful season going on Monday when they host Harlan in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament at 5:30 p.m. Harlan County and Bell County will meet in the other semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. with the championship on Tuesday at 6 p.m.