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KERSHAW – The Andrew Jackson Lady Volunteers saw a great 2012 season come to a close a little shy of its goal last season when they were eliminated by 2012 Class AA state softball champion Palmetto.
AJ, 25-5, won the Region IV-AA championship and the Lancaster County Classic as well as going undefeated in region regular-season play.
The AJ girls’ goals are simple for the 2013 campaign – win the region and state titles.
Lady Vols veteran coach Steve Middleton said he knows all foes will bring their “A” games when they face AJ.
“If we don’t come to play, you are going to lose,” Middleton said. “Region IV is the toughest in the state that can say five of its teams have won a state title in the last seven years and the other Cheraw was the state runner-up in 2008.”
The Lady Vols are preseason ranked No. 2, with Buford No. 3, Chesterfield No. 5, Central at No. 11, and Indian Land at No. 15. Dillon, the 2012 state runner-up, is No. 1.
Middleton said it all starts with pitching and he feels the AJ girls have an edge.
Sophomore Hannah Cobb and junior Lauren Rowell anchor the AJ rotation, while eighth grader Lindsey Robinson appears ready to take her spot in the Lady Vols’ rotation.
Senior third baseman Kori Ballard, who has signed to play at St. Andrews College, is hoping to equal her six home runs and .420 batting average of last spring when she was named the Best Offensive Player.
Senior Summer Truesdale has handled second base for five seasons. A year ago, she batted .390 with three home runs and 21 RBIs, and Middleton is hoping for a duplicate season.
“Summer could be the most improved player on our team,” Middleton said.
Senior Claire McManus anchors the catching duties. She led the team in sacrifices last year and should be a much-improved hitter this season. Sophomore Morgan Bailey will also see action behind the dish.
Junior Haley Faulkenberry will handle shortstop. Middleton regards Faulkenberry as the most athletic Lady Vol and a dangerous lead-off hitter.
Sophomore Angela Sims will be at first, and Middleton notes she’s one of the best at her position in the state. Sophomore Savannah McKittrick will also see action at first as well as batting in the designated hitter spot most of the time.
The AJ outfield will see a seven-girl rotation with senior Halle Thompson, junior Mallory Ray, sophomores Taylor Grace McGowan, Katlyn Starnes, Natalie Robinson and Cobb when she’s not pitching. Kinsley Adams, an eighth grader, will also see time in the AJ outfield.
“These girls have worked hard and we hope it pays off when regular-season play begins,” Middleton said.
Middleton’s staff includes veteran Tripp Cobb, and Kevin Sims, who heads up the AJ jayvee team. Newcomer Ben Eason leads the AJ B-team and former AJ ace pitcher Casey Faile will coach first base and work with the Lady Vols’ pitchers.
“At AJ, all of our coaches help every team and that will continue to be the case,” Middleton said. “We want the girls and coaches to know and trust each other.
“Hopefully, we will start the season ‘out of the gates’ hot,” Middleton said. “If you don’t, you work, fix the problems and regroup.”