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63rd District softball lookahead: Spare some change?

Apr. 5—Sportswriter Robert C. Gallagher once said, "Change is inevitable — except from a vending machine."

And much like a well-used vending machine, the 63rd District is full of change among the coaching ranks.

That's why Lewis County coach Chad Case went from being the new guy on the scene just two seasons ago to now being the most tenured coach in the district. The other three teams have new skippers at the helm to start the 2024 campaign.

"We've been working hard since probably July and August so these kids are ready to go," Case said. "We've got kids that are stepping up and becoming leaders. So we're very excited about getting things going."

Russell's change at the top involves a familiar face.

Destiny Goins spent the previous two seasons at Raceland but made the short jump to Russell in September.

"I feel at home here," Goins said. "It's been great. They've been behind me 110% and they know I'm behind them 110%."

With the move, Raceland turned toward Greg Adkins to lead the Rams into the 2024 season.

"Everything seems to be going in the right direction," Adkins said. "The kids are working hard and playing hard. They've responded really well to all the changes and to the coaching staff this year."

Greenup County's change was much more recent and quite abrupt.

Mike Diller was given a letter of termination on March 18, just two days after the first game of the season.

The Musketeers have named Jaclyn Holmes the interim coach moving forward.

"I have a good team behind me," Holmes said. "Our assistants, Deven (Vanbibber), John (Adams), and Jessy (Kegley) have been awesome supporting me."

Greenup CountyIt's safe to say that no one wants to start a season out with a coaching change.

Unfortunately for the Musketeers, that's where they find themselves.

Nevertheless, Holmes looks to keep the team focused on the task at hand.

"We've developed the motto 'Not me,'" Holmes said. "They've written it on their gloves, their shoes. ... It's been our main focus, just making sure that we focus on the team instead of just the individual tasks at hand."

One thing that will help keep Greenup County on track is returning its best hitter from last year, Skyler Lawrence (.511), along with Maddy Steele (.398) and Laela Matthews (.369).

"Everyone is stepping up and doing a good job," Greenup County assistant coach Deven Vanbibber said. "They're doing what they need to for the team and just being softball players."

The Musketeers hope to make it to the region tournament and then to State, but Holmes has goals off the field as well that she hopes her club can achieve.

"To see them excel both academically and athletically," Holmes said. "Those are my main goals. Just seeing them bond overall as a family."

Lewis CountyWhile Lewis County didn't see a change at the coaching position, the Lions will see a big change in the roster.

Emily Cole, the team's ace for the past four seasons, has moved on to Marshall University for the next chapter in her career.

Despite the loss, Case remains confident in who he puts in the circle this year.

"I've got a young lady named Aubrey Hicks that'll be doing most of the pitching for us this season," Case said. "This is a kid that, honestly, could've been pitching anywhere in the region before now, it just so happened that she was behind Emily Cole."

Cole's shoes will be tough ones to fill, but Hicks isn't the only one who will be looking to step up this season.

"It's no secret that we lost a lot of talented seniors last year," Case said. "But I feel good about where we are at right now. We have a great group of girls who have worked really hard. We're looking ahead and moving forward."

Lewis County's top three hitters all graduated last year, so the team will be looking to seniors Summer Egbert (.348 avg in 2023) and Addison Willis (.330) as well as junior Kaylen Case (.362) and sophomore Jerra Lucas (.333) to lead at the plate this year.

"We've got a good balance of hitters and fielders here," Case said. "I just need to get them a little confidence built up. So, starting off, I feel like we'll be a team that has to manufacture some runs. We'll have to do some things a little different than what we did last year."

The Lions have the experience factor. Several of the players know what it's like to get to John Cropp Field for the state tournament, and most were in the starting lineup last year.

"A lot of people might not realize this, but I'm actually bringing back seven starters from last year's region finals game," Case said. "I've got six seniors and two juniors who know what it takes to get there. They've been through it and know the dedication it takes."

RacelandRaceland looks to push further into the 16th Region tournament this year after making a quick exit in last year's bracket.

The Rams hope that a new skipper in charge and a wide-open district will put the team in a position to do just that.

"Everything is up in the air in the district," Adkins said. "In years past, everything ran through Lewis County, but I don't think that's the case this year. Nobody knows who's going to win it, but I'm hoping it's us."

A big piece to the Rams potentially making that goal a reality is in the arm of Davanna Grubb (3.85 ERA 2023). Last year's starting pitcher returns this season to help command the circle and control the game.

"We're going at it one day at a time," Adkins said. "We practice to practice and we play to play. We're trying not to look too far ahead at anything. We want to have a strong finish here. We want to get the All 'A' title, win the district, get back to State again, all of that, but it'll take one day at a time to get there."

One added bonus is the new turf field that the team will be playing on this year. Adkins is already seeing the benefits of that change as well.

"It's been nice to have the turf on the field where we can get out every day," Adkins said. "They've not been just stuck in a gym and we're getting to see a lot of stuff that we wouldn't have been able to see in a gym."

The Rams look to have plenty of talent ready to spray base hits all over the new turf. The team returns its top four hitters in Kali Vance (.435), Bryna Wellman (.393), Peyton Mackie (.365), as well as Grubb (.373).

Adkins says those sluggers and the rest of his squad have been putting in the work to make this season a success.

"It all comes down to hard work," Adkins said "It's amazing the hard work these girls put in during the offseason and the season. They want to get out on the field every day. They're ready to go play."

RussellThe Red Devils are well acquainted with their new coach. Goins' Raceland team knocked Russell out of the district tournament last year to end the Red Devils' season.

But it's that familiarity that Goins is using to help shape this team.

"I coached against them plenty of times before and every time I would come to coach against them, there wasn't consistency," Goins said. "I didn't know what I was going to get when I came here. So that's been my main goal as head coach of Russell now is to find that consistency."

A major benefit in finding that consistency is the presence of Audrey Patel (3.14 ERA) in the circle. The senior has been the starting pitcher for the past three seasons.

"She's our ace pitcher," Goins said. "She always stays super focused and is a great leader on this team."

Patel will also be depended on offensively as well. She was second in hits last year and carried a .391 batting average.

Patel was just behind hit leader Paige Hutchinson (.385), who will also be called on once again to produce on offense for Russell.

Along with Hutchinson, the Red Devils will look toward players like senior Lili Smith and eighth grader Bella Hall to pick up hits this season.

"A lot of these girls haven't had varsity playing time before," Goins said. "A goal for us is finding that consistency and giving them that exposure. Of course, we want to get district wins. That's a big goal for us. But, we're looking ahead. We have bigger goals than just the beginning things. We want to look ahead so we play like we're going to be ahead."

Goins thinks that if this squad can go on a run that leads them deep into the postseason, it'll all hinge on that aspect of consistency.

"If we make that run, it means we found it," Goins said. "Consistency is the main thing we're working on and it's probably our biggest obstacle thus far."

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