Head coach Ronnie Sockey is entering his eighth season at the helm of the Lady Bulldogs’ softball program, and he is anxiously awaiting the end of basketball season for more than one reason.
First, his daughter Ally, a junior, plays basketball and will be trying to win a state championship on Saturday. Second, Ally is also one of six key softballers who also play basketball.
While the team is loaded with young talent, including 10 freshmen, it’s the veteran players who will make all the difference this season.
“We’ve been to the finals three times and to the semi-finals every year except for the first two,” said Coach Sockey during a recent interview. The Lady Bulldogs lost to Sheridan in the 2019 finals, 4-3.
“We’ve got nine seniors and seven have played a lot of innings for us,” he continued. “They’ve been playing together for a long time and we’re expecting a lot out of them this year.
Sockey led Greenwood to its only fast-pitch state title in 2015, and believes his team has what it takes to make another run at the 5A state crown.
“They have not won a championship,” he said of this year’s seniors. “They’ve been in the finals twice and got beat by one run in both games by the same team. Sheridan has played in the finals five or six straight years.”
When it comes to talent and experience, the Lady Bulldogs have both in spades, starting with senior catcher Paxtyn Hayes, who is already signed to play at Pittsburg State in Kansas next season.
“Paxtyn Hayes is going to be our big hitter and play catcher for us,” explained Sockey. “We’re hoping Angela Price will be able to give us some time behind the plate also besides playing either second or third base for us.”
A two-sport athlete, Price has committed to the University of Kansas, but is still battling a wrist injury on her glove hand. She only recently returned to game action in basketball.
“Rheding Wagoner is going to be back as one of our pitchers and a big contributor in the lineup offensively,” added Sockey. “She’ll be in the lineup everyday somewhere,” a reference to her versatility.
“Harley [Terry] is going to be our first baseman. We’re hoping her bat is going to be big for us with more power, getting on base and cutting down on the strikeouts. She’s a good target and has a good glove,” he added.
“Emma McCorkle will be our centerfielder and Kya Schmidt will play left field or right field for us,” said the coach. McCorkle is headed to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, while Schmidt will play at National Park Community College in Hot Springs.
“We’ve got quite a few seniors who will be playing at the next level,” said Sockey. “It’s definitely a good bunch with a lot of experience.” He then turned his focus on a few talented juniors, including his own daughter.
“We’ve got Ally [at shortstop]. She’s been right around a .500 batting average the last two years with a lot of stolen bases and runs scored.
“Her and Angela at the top of the order are going to be key for us. They are also good up the middle defensively,” said Sockey of his prized middle infielders.
“Natalie Thomas did a lot of hitting for us at the end of last year,” he continued. “She’s going to be coming off the bench hitting and maybe play some outfield and first base. She’s a good athlete and a big, strong girl.
“We’ve [also] got Haven [Clements] in the circle, our go-to pitcher last year. She threw a lot of innings with a low ERA and a [nice] strikeout-to-walk ratio. She’s not a big strikeout girl, but she knows how to pitch. She makes [the opposition] put the ball in play.”
But Clements won’t have to carry all the load. Senior Rheding Wagoner is back in the circle this season after taking a few years away from pitching.
“It really helps to have two different types of pitchers,” said her coach. “Rheding is more of a hard thrower with a curveball. She gets a few more strikeouts and is effectively wild.
“She keeps the batters on their toes and she’s not afraid to pitch inside. We’re excited to have her back. I think she’s played every position except for first base and catcher. She’s committed to play at Carl Albert Community College.
Sockey then described the up-and-coming talent in the sophomore and freshmen classes, excited about their potential.
“In the sophomore class we’ve got Macey Cutsinger. She was a courtesy runner last year and played a little outfield, but she’s been hitting the ball well this past summer and off-season.
“Kylie Lawson has been hitting the ball well [too]. She’s been looking good in right field with a strong arm, but needs more experience on defense.
“We’ve [also] got two or three freshmen who can give us some help this year with extra depth. We’ve got a freshman catcher that’s coming on, Charlie Taylor, who can really swing the bat. Charlie has played a lot of travel ball.
“London Mckinney is athletic and can really run. She’s a strong kid (middle infield). Claire Chapel has a knee injury right now, but she can swing the bat pretty good.
“We’ve got three [freshmen] pitchers,” Sockey continued. “[Righties] Lilly Williams and Madelynn Cassat. Both have been throwing good innings for us. Paige Pugh is a left-handed pitcher and we haven’t had a lefty in the eight years I’ve been here. When she throws strikes, she’s really effective.
“It’s exciting to see the young bunch doing well and contributing. We’ve got 32 girls [overall] and 10 freshmen. We’ve got a varsity roster of 20 to 22 girls that we will travel with.”
The coach envisions having two junior varsity squads and hopes to get them 15 to 20 games this season.
“We’ve played three JV games and they are 3-0. They beat Magazine 12-0, then beat Paris 20-0, and beat a good Rogers team 5-3. I think we could put our freshman bunch out there and beat some varsity teams.”
Sockey will have a pair of left-handed batters in his lineup for balance. “Kya Schmidt is a lefthanded slapper and Pax Hayes is our only natural lefty we have,” he said.
Speed will also be a big part of the Lady Bulldogs’ game this season, both on the basepaths and on defense.
“The outfield is going to be really fast with Kya and Emma both back, and with Rheding or Macey in right. They can really fly and go catch the ball.”
As for the conference race, Sockey believes his team is still the team to beat, but also expects tough competition from Greenbrier, Vilonia, and Beebe. He says Alma will also be good offensively and that Benton could join Sheridan as one of the better teams statewide.
The Lady Bulldogs were conference champs last year at 12-2, with both losses to Beebe. They were 25-6 overall, including their loss to Sheridan in the state finals. This year’s state tournament is in Mountain Home.
“I would say we are the team to beat. But our girls are up to the challenge. We need a target on our back to push us and make us work every game,” he said.
The coach doesn’t expect much lag time between basketball season and softball. “We’ll get six of them out in basketball, but they’ve done some work on their own, swinging the bat and throwing. We’ll have a couple of practices and they’ll be ready to go,” he said.
The field is in good shape and ready for action he added. “We’ve got a nice place to play and a great field. It’s about as nice a high school facility as you could have. It’s a good atmosphere for the girls.”
While awaiting the arrival of his basketball girls, Sockey and his Lady Bulldogs will continue to play junior varsity or practice games until next week after the state basketball finals.
For GHS softball fans, it should be a fun year indeed.