Off to a blistering 8-2 start through the first stretch of the season, the Adair County Lady Indians’ softball team rolls into spring break full of confidence.
Why wouldn’t they? The Tribe’s stats are better across the board from last season, and that 6-21 record from a year ago is now a distant memory.
The defense has been solid, sometimes even better, and hitters up and down the order have made an impact at the plate. Upperclassmen have embraced leadership roles, and younger players have stepped up without missing a beat. The squad’s improvement is undeniably a team effort. Perhaps the biggest factor in the quick and drastic turnaround, however, has been in the pitching circle.
Following last Thursday’s win over Nelson County, sophomore Hallie Burton’s record moved to 5-0. She didn’t allow a hit in that one, though the no-no was somewhat spoiled by an unearned run. She went seven innings and struck out 10 — pretty much an average performance for her thus far.
“It’s been fun, and it feels good,” Burton says of her early-season success. “The defense behind me has been really good, and I’ve worked on staying ahead in the count and not falling behind, so that’s helped me get some strikeouts.”
Through 26 innings on the year, Burton has already struck out 44 batters compared to just 14 walks. Her ERA: 0.00. Zero. None. Nothing earned, and almost nothing at all. She’s only given up two unearned runs.
Burton admits that’s she’s starting to feel the weight of her Hershiser-like steak, and says she didn’t expect this hot of a start.
“I definitely feel the pressure,” Burton says. “I’ve kind of surprised myself. I knew that our defense had improved, and I knew that I was starting to get back to where I was before surgery, but I didn’t know it would be this good of a start.”
The surgery Burton mentions was a procedure she underwent in the summer of 2020 to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff, and the recovery makes this season’s performance even more impressive.
“I’m just now getting to where I can throw full games again and go several innings without it starting to hurt,” Burton explains.
Cheatham provides additional ace
The real luxury for Adair is that Burton is not the only star pitcher in the roster. Fellow sophomore Ellie Cheatham has been nearly as impressive statistically, and her inning-eating has allowed Burton to work back slowly.
“Having two pitchers like that that you can count on, it makes it fun to coach them,” Adair head coach Keith Brown says of his 1-2 punch on the rubber. “It spoils me as a coach, because any night, either one of them I can put out there and know that they can get the job done.”
The job Cheatham has done over-qualifies her for No. 2 pitcher status. Through 43 innings of work, she has established herself as a legitimate ace in her own right, racking up 66 strikeouts against just eight walks. She boasts a 3-2 record and 2.44 ERA.
“Both of them have improved so much from last year, and they’re both throwing really well,” Brown says. “They’re throwing more strikes this year and they’re getting deeper into games without throwing a lot of pitches. We’re working on the changeup, and when we get that worked in there, they’re going to be really dangerous.”
Opposing batter will not want to see what a more dangerous version of the Burton-Cheatham tandem looks like. If they keep their current form, it could mean a deep postseason run for the Lady Indians.
“That’s our goal,” Burton says. “We want to win a lot of games, win district, and compete at region.”