Russell County softball head coach Tonya Rexroat is looking to send this year’s senior class off with a district championship.
With the Lady Lakers hosting this year’s district tournament, she said it would be “special” for the class — Payton Kinnett, Tarryn Reynolds, Sophie Shearer, and Caroline Wells — to celebrate a district championship at the Kay Morris Softball Complex. She added that it would also be a nice accomplishment since the last district title Russell County won was during their freshman season and because the players have “overcome a ton of adversity” during their careers.
“They’ve played together since they were 7 and 8 years old,” Rexroat said. “They have grown up playing the sport, knowing the sport, they’ve been great mentors to the younger players. It’s just immeasurable what they bring to the team.
“They’ve been through coaching changes, been through a lot of situations that have been devastating for them. I just hope we can achieve this goal … I’ve told the team we have a gameplan, and if we just stick to that gameplan, we’re going to win some games.”
Russell County lost four seniors from last year’s 16-12 squad, which went 3-3 in district play, but the team returns six players who played at least 25 games last season, including the top two hitters from last year.
Senior Sophie Shearer had a team-high 38 hits and added 22 runs scored and 20 RBI with a .447 batting average.
Junior Emma Popplewell recorded 37 hits, 24 runs scored, a team-high 32 RBI with a .420 batting average. She was the only Lady Laker to appear in at least 25 games and not strikeout, recording this feat in an impressive 88 at-bats. She is also the lone returning player that hit a home run last season, with three homers in 2021.
Senior Caroline Wells also returns after recording 28 hits, 23 runs scored, 8 RBI, and a .289 batting average.
Senior Payton Kinnett, had 26 hits and 25 runs scored, adding 12 RBI and a .333 batting average. She was the team’s leading base-stealer last season with four.
Sophomore Addie Davis recorded 24 hits, 19 runs scored, 10 RBI and had a .324 batting average.
Senior Tarryn Reynolds recorded 20 hits, 10 runs scored, and 17 RBI with a .267 batting average and will be the primary pitcher for Russell County this season.
The team lost ace Natalie Hart to graduation but will rely on Reynolds in the pitcher’s circle. Last season, she threw 56.1 innings, struck out 34 batters, and went 3-2 with an ERA of 6.83.
Having a team with so much varsity experience will be an advantage for Russell County, Rexroat said, in what she expects to be a competitive district with Metcalfe, Cumberland, and Clinton counties.
Rexroat was hired just a few weeks before the start of the season, and in addition to a district title, she said her main goal is to help her players improve. Even with four seniors and three juniors, the majority of the players are eighth-graders through sophomores.
“I’m a teacher at heart, and I’m always looking for teachable moments to mentor and build the skills of these younger players,” Rexroat said. “My goal is to just, coming in this year and coming in at the last minute, stay in games and just keep fighting. We’re not going to win every game, but we’re going to win a lot.
Rexroat pointed to her previous relationship with the players as the middle school softball coach in helping to ease the transition, despite the short window she’s been the high school head coach.
“We have a tight bond,” she said. “We go way back.”
The team played its first game of the season on Monday (read the full recap here), defeating Taylor County 6-3 in a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
Rexroat welcomed the crowd’s enthusiasm in that game and hoped it continues throughout the season.
“We appreciate all of the fan support and hope to pack the bleachers and get as many fans out as we can,” said Rexroat, who added that there would be 15 more home games this season. “Come out and cheer us on!”
The assistant coach for the Lady Lakers is Joey Bell. Click here for this season’s schedule.
Other players on the roster include:
• Junior Jadyn Mann
• Junior Mady Hatchett
• Sophomore Avery Hart
• Sophomore Audrie Roy
• Freshman Jaylee Roy
• Freshman Mallie McQueary
• Freshman Nevaeh Duncan
• Freshman Addison Hart
• Freshman Myah Conner
• Freshman Abbie Sprague
• Eighth-grader Kiara Kemp