Buoyed by strong postseason performance, Lady Dragons appear poised for breakout season this spring


Jon Dickenson

Team members include, from left, front row: Emily Lane, Ella Farley, Ella Lisenbee, Carley Thomas, Amy Roman and Karrie Gregg; back row: Ava Nunez, Emma Nolan, Kendyll Blanton, Abbi Fields, Annie Hoskins, Aly Kirby, Mallory McNeil and Addison Jackson.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

With a roster dominated by freshmen playing a varsity schedule, the Harlan Lady Dragons went through plenty of growing pains during the 2022 season. Harlan lost 17 of 18 at one point and sputtered their way into the postseason with a 5-21 record.
The Lady Dragons saved their best game for last though, throwing a massive scare into Middlesboro before falling 9-8 to the eventual champs, showing why coach David Overbay was so excited about his young team’s potential. Overbay returned last season for his second stint as coach and inherited a young squad that steadily improved.
“I stressed at the beginning of this year that it’s not as much about how you start but how you finish. We got a late start last year with me being named coach a week before the season,” Overbay said. “They hit the ground running and we’re so far ahead of where we were last year.”
With all their key players back, the Lady Dragons are much more advanced now than this time a year ago and Overbay has seen the difference as they prepare for the season opening on March 13 at home against Barbourville.
The Lady Dragons were led a year ago by a pair of talented freshmen who established themselves as one of the 13th Region’s best underclassmen tandems. Catcher Addison Jackson, who hits third, and third baseman Ella Lisenbee, who leads off, will play key roles again this spring.
Jackson has started behind the plate since middle school and showed plenty of pop last year with six home runs and 23 RBI while hitting .436. Jackson is also very good behind the plate with a strong arm.
“She’s a solid catcher who knows that space back there. She has a tremendous arm and has a lot of power. She’s a gap hitter who hits with a lot of power and is a great softball player,” Overbay said.
Lisenbee is the Lady Dragons’ emotional leader with plenty of grit and hustle. She provides speed and pop at the top of the order. Lisenbee hit .421 last season with three homers,13 RBI and 28 stolen bases while tying for second in the state in triples with 10.
“Ella has a toughness about her and has an extremely strong arm. She has played a lot of ball and is an all-around player who can play anywhere on the field. She is a gap hitter with power,” Overbay said. “She also improved a lot as a pitcher and will see action there.”
Ella Farley, a sophomore, plays a big role on defense at shortstop and on offense as the second hitter. She was second in steals last year with 20 in 22 attempts while recording 14 hits.
“She’s tough and quick and can play the position. She’s played softball a long time and knows the game. She’s also a gritty player and doesn’t mind getting hit when she’s at the plate,” said Overbay, noting Farley reached base 10 times as a hit batsman.
Carley Thomas, also a sophomore, hits cleanup while serving as the team’s primary pitcher. Thomas hit .342 last season with three homers and 26 RBI. She also pitched 134 innings with 88 strikeouts and 80 walks while posting a 5-22 record.
“She suffered an ankle injury last year and played all year about 70 percent. She toughed it out,” Overbay said. “Her location has gotten better and she’s added a couple of pitches. Carley is also one of our power hitters who hits the ball solid.”
Thomas suffered a knee injury in practice last week, however, and her status was uncertain heading into the opening game.
Abbi Fields, a sophomore first baseman who could also hit in the middle of the order, will be eligible on March 18 after sitting out last season following a transfer from Harlan County.
“Abbi will be a great contributor. She’s strong and has a lot of power,” Overbay said. “We also think she’ll help us as a pitcher.”
Mallory McNeil, a junior, returns at second base and also pitches. She was sixth on the team last season with 11 hits.
“She has worked really hard in the off-season. Her fundamentals have gotten a lot better,” Overbay said. “She will also be a big help as far as pitching. Her bat speed and swing have gotten a lot better. She came into her own this spring.”
Amy Roman, a freshman, moves up from the middle school team to take over in center field. She will also see action as a pitcher.
“She’s extremely quick and plays the position well by covering a lot of ground,” Overbay said. “She is probably the fastest kid on the team.”
Ava Nunez, a sophomore, shifts from center field to left field and will also see action at first base. Nunez was third on the team in hits last year with 27 while recording a .338 average and 23 RBI.
“She has a lot of power and constantly works to get better,” Overbay said. “We threw her into center field last year and she really adapted and became a good outfielder.”
Sophomore Annie Hoskins will also see action in left field.
“Annie is another we have who is gritty and tough,” Overbay said. “She will do whatever she has to do to knock the ball down. She blossomed into a great outfielder last year after being thrown into the fire.”
Kendyll Blanton, a junior, is back in right field.
“She is another one who has worked hard in the spring. Her outfield mechanics have improved quite a bit,” Overbay said.
Former Harlan star pitcher Ashley Overbay, now a teacher at Harlan Elementary School, has joined the staff as pitching coach.
Harlan fell in the first round of the district tournament last season for the third straight year, but Overbay likes the Lady Dragons’ chances this year in what should be a much more balanced 52nd District. Harlan hasn’t been to the regional tournament since finishing 14-8 in 2018 in Overbay’s first stint as coach.
“Playing so well in the last game was encouraging for them and helped them look forward to this season,” Overbay said. “If we can improve as much as we did last year, I think a district championship and a trip to the regional tournament are possibilities.”

Sophomore catcher Addison Jackson hit .436 last season and collected six home runs (which may be a school and county record). (Chris Jones)
Harlan third baseman Ella Lisenbee, who hit .421 last season while tying for second in the state with 10 triples, talked with her dad, Harlan assistant coach Scott Lisenbee, in action last season. (Jon Dickenson)
Harlan sophomore Carley Thomas delivered a pitch in action last season. (Jon Dickenson)