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Virginia-Wise reaps dividends of SW Virginia softball pipeline

By KEVIN MAYS, [email protected] • Mar 14, 2018 at 3:00 AM

WISE — Virginia-Wise is set to open its Mountain East Conference softball schedule Saturday coming off a strong nonconference run to start the season.

A big part of the success of the Cavaliers’ 11-5 start has come from players playing close to home.

Senior Samantha Ely, a Lee High graduate, Lucindy Lawson, a Rye Cove grad, and freshman Kaylee Jones, a star during her prep playing days at Eastside, have all contributed heavily to the Cavs’ early-season success.

Junior Erica Counts, a graduate of now-defunct Clintwood, and sophomore Kaitlyn Stratton, a former Wise Central ace, have also contributed as part of the Cavaliers’ pitching rotation.

Having a base in far Southwest Virginia to recruit some of the best in the region is a plus for the college program, Cavaliers co-coach Karen Bitter said.

“It’s really good. There are some good players in this area. They are really talented. They just need a little polishing,” Bitter said. “That’s not to say players from the other areas don’t need polishing, but the players around here, a lot of the times, don’t have as many chances to play as players from some other areas.”

Ely is in her final year on the collegiate softball diamond. She has played the past three at Virginia-Wise.

She played her first season at Emmanuel College in Georgia, but she transferred to Wise after not being happy during her freshman year.

“It’s great because my family can come to the home games and watch me play,” Ely said. “I love it because we have a close family.”

She said the group of seniors has been focused on making sure the team comes together as one unit as the season progresses.

Ely’s example on the field has been a strong one. The third baseman has started all 16 games for the Cavaliers this season. Heading into Saturday’s MEC opener at West Virginia State, Ely carries a .356 batting average with a home run, four doubles, nine RBIs and 11 runs scored.

Lawson came from a small high school at Rye Cove and has had to prove herself during her career. She’s had no trouble transitioning to the collegiate level. Lawson, who does not say a whole lot, prefers to let her play on the field do the talking.

“I just do the best I can do and do whatever needs to be done to help contribute to the team’s success,” Lawson said.

The power-hitting catcher boasts a .346 batting average and a .764 slugging percentage with three home runs and seven RBIs.

While expectations for Ely and Lawson were high entering the season, Jones has been a pleasant surprise for the Cavaliers.

Jones has hit the ground running as a freshman, starting 15 of the team’s 16 games at second base. She has produced a .366 batting average with a home run, five doubles and six RBIs.

Jones has had to make the adjustment to college life as well become acclimated to playing college softball.

“It’s definitely different,” she said. “The competition is a lot tougher and you have to be ready to play every single game and every day. The competition is strong with the other teams, but it’s also tough with your teammates. They push you every day in practice, and that’s good.”

Jones said one of the adjustments — and part of the excitement — is getting to know players from other parts of the state and regions across the country.

“It’s been fun. There are some little differences, but we have a lot more in common than our differences,” she said.

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