Midway softball coach Susan Clark gives an update on how her younger players are making an impact this season.
SPIVEY'S CORNER — For the past two seasons, Midway softball coach Susan Clark didn't have to make many adjustments to her defensive lineup– especially at pitcher.
Clark hasn't had such fortune in 2022, losing seven senior starters to graduation including longtime ace Miranda Holmes, who is currently pitching for Barton College.
Holmes helped last year's group to a second East Central 2A Conference softball championship in three years– finishing with an 11-2 record, a career-best 158 strikeouts to just 10 walks– while earning Daily Record Pitcher of the Year honors.
Now, the third-year Lady Raiders skipper is grooming the next generation, beginning with Sarah Autry, who is among a trio of "stout pitchers" that figure to rotate this season. During Friday's home-opening win over Triton, Autry went the distance and turned in a career-high 11 strikeouts.
"She's worked really hard every day for several years to enjoy what she enjoyed tonight. She deserves it," Clark said of Autry, who gave up just three hits during the 6-2 victory.
"All my young pitchers work hard every day to get better and fine-tune, and I'm just very proud of them. ... I expect great things from these girls."
Autry followed fellow freshman Jordyn Christopher during the season-opening loss at South Johnston on March 1, as the two combined for 12 strikeouts and just five walks through 10 innings.
A tag-team effort wasn't needed Friday, however, as she hurled a dominating performance that resembled those of the offseason workout partner she's looked up to for years.
"I knew it was huge shoes to fill ... I was very excited because I really aspire to be like Miranda," Autry said, also noting the two sharing time with the same pitching coach in Benson.
"Getting to start with this team, and getting to play with them, really just made me feel like I was kind of reaching my goals."
With a combined 17 strikeouts in her first two appearances at the prep level, Autry says she's trying out an array of pitches and making adjustments based on how hitters are reacting to them.
She added that her riseball and curveball have been go-to pitches to this point, and were especially sharp against the Lady Hawks.
"I'm just really enjoying it and I think it's really boosting my confidence," Autry said.
"But I don't want to get overconfident and go out there and expect to do something I'm not gonna do. I just wanna always make sure I'm staying in the game."
Meanwhile, Clark is hoping to find just as much success replacing departed seniors at the plate as she is without three of the top five hitters from last year's 13-2 group that made a second-round state playoffs appearance.
"This is the year our focus is on offense because we knew our pitchers are young and they (teams) would probably hit them. In order to win, you got to hit with them," she said, highlighting the extra hitting stations added during practices.
So far, the results have varied. The Lady Raiders racked up 10 hits and eight RBIs in the extra-inning loss to South, but had just three hits Friday.
Cassidy King played in just six games last season, but has already made her presence felt with a three-hit, three-RBI performance in the opener. Meanwhile, first-year starter Krista McLean has brought in five runs this season including a three-RBI triple against Triton.
"We're still trying to figure out all the other positions, but we're young and we're strong," Clark said. "We've got a lot to build on."
The Lady Raiders (1-1) continue their non-conference schedule Tuesday at East Duplin.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.