Half a week into their 2022 campaign, the Adair County Lady Indians are already halfway to last season’s win total.
Second-year head coach Keith Brown, who was hired prior to the eventually-canceled-due-to-Covid 2020 campaign, is not surprised by the vast, rapid development.
“I knew we’d make a big improvement, I really did,” Brown says. “We’re a deep team, and when we started practicing, it was hard to make out a lineup because we have a lot of girls that can play. These freshmen are really coming along and they’re putting pressure on the upperclassmen. It’s a good problem to have, because we know if one goes down or is having a bad night, we’ve got someone over there that can get the job done.”
Only two players graduated from the team that finished 6-21, but this year’s squad—unbeaten through three contests—looks nothing like its predecessor. Through wins over Caverna (16-1), Casey County (3-2), and Hart County (8-0), the only real question is which has been more impressive: The pitching or the hitting?
“I’ve been really pleased with the girls so far,” Brown says. “Our pitching and hitting has been solid, so I think our defense is going to be our key.”
“Solid” might be an undersell from the head coach, even with the incredibly small sample size. Seniors Emma Ellison and Kayla Shepherd, along with freshman Jade Waggener, all sport batting averages over .600 (18 hits in 27 total at-bats), while the sophomore trio of Hannah West, Lily Loy, and Hallie Burton each hit comfortably above .400.
The early-season pitching stats are equally impressive. A rotation of Burton and Ellie Cheatham has flummoxed batters thus far. Burton has pitched nine innings, racked up 15 strikeouts, and only walked five. She’s yet to surrender an earned run. Cheatham has allowed two earned runs through her nine innings of work, allowed seven walks, and struck out 18.
“With Hallie and Ellie getting the experience [in the circle] last year, it really shows this year,” Brown says. “Both of them are pitching well, throwing less pitches and getting deeper into the games. Last year a lot of times we’d have like 100 pitches in the third inning, and they might end up throwing 130-something. This year, we’ve been around 89, 90, 100, so I’m proud of them and how hard they’ve worked.”
Brown says he doesn’t look at his pitchers as No. 1 and No. 2, instead, he’s content to rotate the tandem to keep both healthy and ready on any given day.
“Right now I’m going to try to split [their starts and innings],” Brown explains. “I’m trying to keep them fresh, so I always tell them, one of them is going to start, and then I’m liable to use the other one to come in and finish the game. They’ve both embraced that role, they’re happy about the situation, and at the end of the day I really trust both of them out there with the ball.”
With so much ground gained in so little time, Brown and his girls have lofty ambitions for the rest of the regular season and beyond.
“Our goals this year are that we want to win 20-plus games—and I think we’re on the track to do that—and we also want to win a district championship,” the coach says. “I think we can do it. I really believe in these girls and the girls really believe in each other. I think we can achieve both goals.”
If this team continues its stunning transformation from a six-game winner into district champions, Brown knows who will deserve the bulk of the credit.
“Our seniors, these four—Kaylee [Campbell], Carli [Carter], Emma [Ellison], and Kayla [Shepherd]—they’ve pretty much gelled the team together,” Brown says. “When you’ve got upperclassmen like that, it makes it a lot easier on me and my assistant coaches. They put the girls where they need to be and make sure to keep everyone up in the dugout. We’ve got great leaders and I’m excited to see where they take us.”
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This year’s roster includes:
• Senior Kaylee Campbell
• Senior Carli Carter
• Senior Emma Ellison
• Senior Kayla Shepherd
• Junior Skye Brockman
• Sophomore Hallie Burton
• Sophomore Ellie Cheatham
• Sophomore Madison Irvin
• Sophomore Lily Loy
• Sophomore Lilee Wall
• Sophomore Hannah West
• Freshman Isabella Blackaby
• Freshman Millie Brown
• Freshman Abby Curry
• Freshman Gracie Gist
• Freshman Reagan Long
• Freshman Shelby Riley
• Freshman Jade Waggener
• Freshman Bailey Watts