Ever since Ronnie Sockey came to Greenwood in 2013, the Lady Bulldogs’ softball program has been on a roll, winning a state title in 2015 and reaching the state semi-finals or finals several other times.
Sockey returns several key starters this season from last year’s team that finished 20-6, losing in the state quarter-finals to Jonesboro. He hopes to mold that returning experience with a few newcomers to take the next steps toward returning to the championship round.
That may be a little harder this year, however, with the change in classification by the Arkansas Activities Association, melding the old 5A and 6A divisions together in a new 5A classification. Greenwood will be playing in the 5A West, which produced the 5A state champion last year in Greenbrier.
“We’ve got seven to eight returning starters from last year,” said the coach in a recent interview. “We’ve got quite a few [players] back.”
Among those returning experienced players this season is Sockey’s own daughter, Ally, a sophomore infielder who usually plays shortstop and has one of the team’s most potent bats.
Also returning is senior Mariah Hamilton, who has already signed to play college softball at Arkansas Tech University.
She spends most of her time at first or third base and typically hits third or fourth in the lineup. Sockey and Hamilton provide a lot of pop in the middle of the lineup.
Junior Harley Terry also returns at first base and outfield, along with infielder and catcher Angela Price, who can also play some outfield.
Junior Paxtyn Hayes both catches and plays outfield and was the team’s leadoff hitter much of last season. Rheding Wagoner, also a junior, is a valuable utility player and will be one of Sockey’s top two pitchers this season, along with sophomore Haven Clements.
The two young hurlers will be counted on heavily after the departure of Abbi Clem, who moved away during the Christmas break, and the graduation of Kaila Cartwright. So far Wagoner and Clements have performed well, according to Sockey.
“Our pitchers are throwing strikes,” said the coach. “I think we’ve walked only one to two batters in four games. We just need to get some experience in the circle. Having two pitchers is going to be a big plus. Pitching is a question mark for us, but right now they are doing well.”
As for the everyday lineup, offensively and defensively, Sockey expressed his pleasure with what he’s seen so far this season.
“Right now, early, Angela Price has been on fire at leadoff. Mariah Hamilton has also been a leader on offense. They’ve both gotten off to a really good start,” said the coach.
“Angela is going to lead off and Paxtyn Hayes is going to bat in the two or three hole. Mariah will bat fourth and Ally fifth, then Rheding, and Harley Terry,” said the former Oklahoma coach.
“All up and down the lineup we’ve got power and speed. If we can find some consistency, we’re going to put up a lot of runs.
“We’ve been showing patience at the plate and hitting the ball well,” he continued. “Defensively our infield is going to be real tough.”
Sockey said that juniors Emma McCorkle and Kya Schmidt will see a lot of playing time in the outfield this season, partly due to their excellent speed. McCorkle has been used previously as a courtesy runner, but has surprised with some early offense this season to solidify her position as a dependable outfielder.
As for the competition this year, Sockey pointed to Greenbrier as the defending state champions in Class 5A, but hasn’t forgotten about Greenwood’s rivalry with former perennial 6A state contender Sheridan, which also drops down into the 5A classification.
“The big games in our conference will be with Greenbrier,” said the coach. “They are the returning 5A state champions. Then Vilonia and Beebe. Alma is [also] going to be a sleeper team in the conference. We’ve got to really be ready [to play].”
Asked what it takes to win a state championship, Sockey said, “Play really good defense, have our pitchers throw strikes, and have our bats come alive at the right time. Hopefully our bats will come alive at the end of the year.”