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Warhill pinning softball prospects on leader Rochard and talented stable of sluggers

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

Warhill was afforded a perceived luxury last season most softball teams aren't: a pair of Division I pitchers in Colby Norris and Keely Rochard.

Rochard, a Virginia Tech recruit, is back this year as a junior while Norris is in her freshman season at Bryant University.

Rochard was the preferred option down the stretch last season and will be looked upon this year by new coach Tom Bunn, also her travel coach for Williamsburg Starz Gold, to throw every meaningful inning.

Other than the coaching change and the absence of Norris on the mound and at first base, the junior-laden Lions stayed mostly intact and are poised for another deep postseason run.

"We went through a rough patch in our regular season, but then in postseason, we really came out strong," senior Hayley Schulz said. "It was a great experience for all of us to come together and since we didn't lose that many girls, it's going to carry over to this year as well."

Schulz, likely to take over for Norris at first, is one of two seniors along with outfielder Makayla Fannin.

The other cornerstones are infielders Olivia Schulz (.360, 37 RBIs) and Kieran McClure (.550) and outfielder Jewel Walters (.385, 17 RBIs).

McClure had only two errors at third base last year and Walters had none. Consider Rochard's shutdown arm and the Lions should be defensively stout although entering Tuesday's opener against Lafayette, Bunn was still curious about how his team would perform in a game; Several of Warhill's players were members of the Lions' basketball team that reached the state tournament, spelling a late start on the diamond.

That includes Rochard, who broke her throwing thumb and missed the end of hoops season, but appears to have recovered for softball.

Rochard was 13-3 last season, tossing a pair of no-hitters and eight shutouts while also batting .500 with 31 RBIs and five home runs.

"Keely has the perfect personality for a pitcher," Hayley Schulz said. "She never loses her cool. She always knows what she's doing and pulls through. We're really confident behind her and just do our best to match up to what she's doing."

Bunn said left-handed hitting Walters, who has committed to VCU for volleyball, has been a pleasant surprise.

"She's a lot better than people know right now," he said. "She's an explosive player."

After claiming the school's first conference softball title last year, Warhill should compete for a Bay Rivers District championship this year.

Two-time reigning champion Brookville, which eliminated Warhill last season from the semifinals, may be the favorite to repeat in 3A. Virginia Tech recruit Jordan Dail pitches for Bunn with Starz Gold and the Lynchburg side also has a catcher headed to the University of North Carolina.

"The expectations should be high (for Warhill)," Bunn said. "Hopefully we win our last game."

Eagles return 8

There's reason to be excited at Jamestown, where the Eagles return eight of nine starters including senior leader Tori Luedde.

Luedde can play all over the park, but will start in the outfield after slugging close to. 500 at the plate last season.

Luedde is joined in the senior class by Jessica Mingo, one of many versatile Jamestown players,

"The Bay Rivers district is one of the toughest and talented districts in the state," Jamestown coach Jerry Varacallo said. "You have to bring your 'A' game to every contest. For us to be successful, we need to bunch hits together and score runs. This has been a problem for some time. We need to be more aggressive at the plate and on the bases."

Other returning starters are shortstop Kaily Smith, pitcher/centerfielder Arianna Reynolds, catcher/third baseman Madi Maharty, first baseman Jamiyah Johnson, and infielder/outfielder Samantha Lee.

Brianna Knotts and Lindsey Sander also saw time last year and are expected to contribute along with a handful of newcomers that includes four freshmen.

One of the challenges Varacallo hopes to conquer is being able to hit consistently, something the Eagles have spent a lot of focus on in preseason practice.

A win and counting

One game in and Lafayette is already off to its best start recent memory after winning its first game in four full seasons on Monday against Heritage.

A prior scrimmage win against Middlesex was cause for optimism for second-year coach Timothy Jones, who sensed then better days could be coming for the Rams.

Senior leader Gabby Boesler, a second-team all-conference selection last season, is an outlier on a team that features 10 underclassmen.

Jones' sophomore daughter, Julia, is one of the underclassmen standouts and will pitch again this year after helping keep Lafayette close in several games last season as a freshman.

'Playing as one'

Bruton lost its most valuable player from last year, Louisburg College freshman DaSha Hill, but the Panthers return a number of starters including senior Lydia Albrecht.

Kyle Cowles has assumed the coaching duties following the death of former coach Danny Williams.

Returning seniors are shortstop Ashley Cordner, infielder Kelcee Harrod and catcher/pitcher/outfielder Kelsey Sluss.

Other returning players are juniors Rachel Brotherton, Hannah Hogan, Caity Washam and sophomores Sarah Mazanek, Hannah Miller and Sarah Tracy.

"I think we will be very competitive this year in the district," Cowles said. "I think we will have a much better showing in the postseason if we play as one."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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