Pennington excited to ‘start over’ in second season with Harlan softball program


John Henson

Team members include, from left, front row: Mallory McNiel, Mckenzie Snelling, Emma Eversole, Ally Combs, Hayley Fuson and Lacie Garland; back row: Addison Jackson, Annie Hoskins, Carley Jo Kennedy, Faith Hoskins, Abbi Fields, Kendyll Blanton and Kierra Hardin.

By John Henson, Managing Editor


When Alex Pennington talks about “starting over” with the Harlan softball program, she’s isn’t exaggerating.
Harlan has only one player back from the 2019 team that fell in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament to Middlesboro. Pennington is starting from scratch in 2021 after the 2020 season was lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With a lineup full of eighth- and ninth-graders, the Lady Dragons were no match for Middlesboro in a 16-0 loss Thursday to open the regular season.
“We are literally starting over. Covid took a lot away from us,” said Pennington, the second-year coach. “We are building from the ground up, and I’m excited to see what these girls will do. They show up every day with an awesome work ethic and willingness to learn. They give it 110 percent wherever you put them. We have to put covid behind and move ahead and know the future is bright. You have to start somewhere.”
Mallory McNiel, a freshman with summer ball experience, will handle pitching duties for the Lady Dragons.
“She has played since she was little and can play anywhere on the field. She has worked hard on her pitching in the offseason, and her hitting has gotten better,” Pennington said.
Two of the best players in the lineup are eighth-graders and will hit in the middle of the order. Abbi Fields played third base and hit third in the season opener. Addi Jackson was the catcher and hit fourth.
“Addi will be a huge contributor to the high school team. She is vocal and knows situations well and is one of our best hitters,” Pennington said. “Abbi is a very strong hitter and she understands the game. I think she is looking forward to see what she can do this year.:
Mackenzie Snelling is the only senior remaining on the roster and will be counted on to ignite the Harlan offense at the top of the order.
“She has a lot of speed and will be important for us in base running,” Pennington said. “She is giving us some senior leadership.”
Faith Hoskins, a sophomore, will open at shortstop but can also play behind the plate.
“She is athletic and can play several positions,” Pennington said. “She listens very well and has a good work ethic. I’m looking forward to having her on the team.”
Lacie Garland, a sophomore, takes over at first base.
“She’s very attentive and willing to work and get better. She takes instruction real well,” Pennington said. “I think her hitting has improved in the preseason and she could help us with the bat.”
Emma Eversole, a junior, is the only returning starter and will play left field.
“Emma is moving from right field and has made the adjustment. She has a positive attitude and is willing play wherever she is needed,” Pennington said. “I think she has improved with her hitting, so I’m excited to see what she can do.”
Kendyll Blanton, a freshman, will open in center field.
“She is very athletic and can play anywhere,” Pennington said. “She took some time off from softball, so we are glad to have her back. She is working hard to improve.”
Allyson Combs, a sophomore, starts in right field.
“This is her first year playing and she has come a long way,” Pennington said. “She has put a lot of work in during the offseason. Her hitting has improved quite a bit.”
Pennington said improved communication is crucial to the Lady Dragons’ continued success.
“We just want to keep getting better,” Pennington said. “Making contact is crucial to this team.”