Athletic Devils hit the diamond
By By Matthew Nascone
Some may be surprised with the quickness of the Escambia County Lady Blue Devils when they open the 2008 season at home Tuesday.
"We are very athletic," first year head coach William Casaday said. "We have a lot of speed, but we also have some power this year."
A lot of that power will come from the bat of returning team RBI leader, Courtney English.
"She (English) will be in center field for us," Casaday said. "She has a lot of power and she can knock the cover off the ball."
But Casaday said the team will be strong throughout the lineup and will benefit from the return of another starter, Raven Culliver. Culliver was named The Atmore Advance Softball Player of the Year last year for her efforts on the mound.
"Everyone knows about our pitcher, Raven Culliver," Casaday said. "She throws the ball well and does a real good job of putting the ball on a spot. And we are practicing a lot of different things on offense. We have good, solid hitters in our one through six spots. Latesha Lee will put the bat on the ball and Ashleigh Taylor will be our four or five hitter. We have other girls coming around with a lot of power. I am just going to have to adjust their swings a little bit and get the most out of them. Brooke Bell will hit for us this year."
Casaday has no seniors on the team, but he said he has something more valuable.
"We don't have any seniors, but we do have some juniors who have been playing since they were freshmen," he said. "They got thrown into the fire early, but those girls play every sport."
Casaday said this group of girls draws leadership ability from a source outside of softball.
"They know how to lead because they learned how to lead from the leaders of the past," Casaday said. "Jasmine Sanders taught Courtney and Latesha how to lead a team. Courtney, Latesha, Raven and Brooke have been playing together for a long time. I don't think you need seniors when you have juniors that play as well as ours do."
The ECHS softball team last year went 8-13, but Casaday said former head coach Duree Madden set the team up for the long haul.
"The main thing is that coach Madden really started something last year when she took the job," Casaday said. "They beat T.R. Miller for the first time in a while and they also took down a good Excel team. They played well in the tournament in Gulf Shores and did some good things. I don't want to do anything different, but I want to build on the momentum they started last year."
Casaday took the first step in keeping that momentum going by starting a JV program for ECHS softball. And other factors around town have helped paint a picture for future success in Atmore softball.
"The middle school is starting a (softball) program and we have a JV program now, so what I want to do is put a good foundation under the program so it keeps improving and we don't have to start over every year," Casaday said. "We want team chemistry. I am real big on everyone doing their job and meshing as a team and having a JV team is going to help with that."
That sense of team chemistry is what Casaday calls the most special thing about the 2008 Lady Blue Devils.
"I will tell you that they like being around one another," he said. "They did that in basketball and that was a special mesh last year with the girls who went to the regional championship game. I feel like we have the same kind of chemistry this year, but we just have to harness it. They are getting along and we have a good time out there."
The Lady Blue Devils have many goals for this season.
"One goal is that we want to have a winning season," Casaday said. "We want to win about 75 percent of our games. I don't know when the last time they have done that is. We want to be seeded in the two-spot going into the area tournament. We want to be playing for the area championship this year and we want to make the playoffs."
The starting lineup for the team's first game against the Northview Lady Chiefs in Bratt Tuesday is what Casaday would call tentative. He said he would look at how the girls perform in that game and make any necessary changes.
First pitch for the game Tuesday is set for 4 p.m. for the JV and 6 p.m. for the varsity.