After missed opportunity last year, Lady Bears ready for 2021 season


John Henson

Team members include, from left, front row: Britleigh Estep, Alexis Sergent, Lola Maggard, Hannah Foster, Lesleigh Brown and Jade Burton; middle row: Brandy Adams, Honesty Thomas, Brenna Early, Angel Rigney, Rylie Maggard, Maddy Blair and Allee Galloway; back row: coach Tim McElyea, Josalyn Lee, Hailey Austin, Emily Day, Caylin Broughton, Jacey Lewis, Kerrigan Creech, Halle Raleigh and Jenna Wilson.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

A year after sharing the devastating news that the 2020 season was over before it got a chance to start, Harlan County softball coach Tim McElyea remembers both the emotion and disappointment.
“I will never forget having to tell the girls their season was canceled. Watching those girls tear up and hold each other’s hands, that’s something that will stay with me the rest of my life,” he said.
With seven starters back from a 20-7 squad that had won four straight district championships and advanced to the final four of the region, the Lady Bears felt they were in position for the best season in school history.
“We had a good hitting team with power. We were loaded. We had these girls going back to middle school and then to lose their senior year, it’s hard to recover from. It was hard for me to recover mentally,” McElyea said. “I had to sit and wonder if I wanted to do this anymore. It broke me, but the pandemic has broken a lot of people. We had to pick up the pieces and go forward, but it bothered me for a long time.”
With star third baseman Hannah Johnson and standout catcher Emily Long graduating, along with first baseman Destiny Clark and several others, McElyea is looking for ways to fill several spots in the lineup going into the 2021 campaign.
One spot that is locked in is senior Brandy Adams at catcher. She was moving to second last season with Long returning but goes back to where she played as a sophomore with Long graduating. Adams hit .440 in 2019 with 40 hits and 29 RBI and was especially effective in pressure situations.
“Brandy is a line-drive hitter. I’d like to put her at second, but we lost Emily. She’s a good catcher,” McElyea said. “She has power to all fields. I think she’s the best hitter in the district.”
Halle Raleigh, a sophomore, provides depth at catcher.
Kerrigan Creech is back on the mound after a breakout sophomore campaign that included a 2.90 earned run average and 130 strikeouts in 130 innings pitched.
“She is definitely our No. 1 pitcher. She doesn’t get rattled. She is a cool customer on the mound, and that’s a good thing to have,” McElyea said. “Thank goodness we have experience. She has pitched a district championship game and the regional tournament. She is throwing a little harder this year, but that changeup is still her bread and butter.”
Candidates at first base include senior Emily Day and freshman Brittleigh Estep.
“Emily came back out as a senior and is a pretty good hitter. Estep has a.good glove,” McElyea said. “That’s a critical spot for us.”
Maddie Blair, an eighth-grader, and Ryleigh Maggard, a freshman, are the early favorites at second base.
“Maddie has shown a great glove at second. She kind of stands out,” McElyea said. “Maggard can hit. She will play several positions.”
Hailey Austin, an athletic sophomore, has impressed the coaching staff. Jade Burton, an eighth-grader, could also see action at shortstop.
“Hailey has a good glove and is a strong hitter. She’s athletic and knows the game,” McElyea said.
Allee Galloway, a senior who started in right field two years ago, could end up at third base this season to fill the big shoes of Johnson, a five-year starter who moved on to Union College.
“She runs the bases well and probably has the strongest arm on the team,” McElyea said. “She’s also a line-drive type hitter.”
Jacey Lewis, a senior who can play shortstop or outfield, is the probable starter in center.
“Jacey covers a lot of ground in center, and she has a good arm,” McElyea said. “I’d like to hit her at the top of the lineup, but I haven’t seen her hit in a couple of years.”
Josalyn Lee, a sophomore with great speed, can play center or left.
“She is probably the fastest girl on the team,” McElyea said. “She can make some things happen for us when she is on the bases. She is a good hitter.”
Brenna Early, a senior, is the probable starter in left field.
“She has made some good strides out there,” McElyea said. “Her hitting has come a long way. We’ve made some adjustments at the plate. She will get her shot out there this year as a senior.”
Caylin Broughton, a senior, is a candidate in right field, along with Maggard.
“Caylin is a transfer from Florida. She’s a good hitter,” McElyea said. “She has some thunder in her bat.”