The 2011 South County Stallions’ girl’s softball team has a much different look than the dominating teams from recent seasons. A year ago, a veteran South County squad went 25-1, captured a fourth straight Patriot District title, and went as far as the Northern Region tournament semifinals before seeing its season end with a 3-0 loss to Robinson.
Last spring’s team was coached by Al Thompson, who over five years as head coach took the Stallions from a 2-13 team back in 2006 to a perennial region contender. Two years ago, in 2009, South County captured the region crown and went all the way to the state AAA semifinals.
Gary Dillow, a longtime South County assistant coach under Thompson, was named the new head coach after Thompson stepped down following last season.
“Coach Thompson instituted such a winning attitude here at South County that we are working as hard as we can to continue that tradition,” said Dillow.
Dillow takes over a program that graduated seven players from last year’s region semifinalist squad. One of those graduated players, Chelsey Dunham, was one of the top pitchers in the state and a dominating district and region force over the past several seasons.
A number of younger, less experienced players are a part of the South County roster this spring.
“We are very young this year, with six freshmen on the team and only two players with any extended varsity experience,” said Dillow, beginning his first season as the program’s head coach. “I think we have a chance to be a good team by the end of the regular season, and can hopefully carry that into the district tournament and compete strongly for our fifth straight district title.”
The season got off to a nice start for South County, which won at Robinson, 8-3, last Friday night, March 18, in its season opener.
South County, going into the Robinson game, had tried twice unsuccessfully to play a scrimmage game at Tuscarora High, a new school in Loudoun County. Poor weather had resulted in both practice game attempts being called off. So Dillow, going into the opener with the Rams, was unsure of what he would see from the new-look Stallions since he had not seen them in a game setting.
“The Robinson game was a pleasant surprise,” he said. “Our scheduled scrimmage has been cancelled twice because of rain, so this was our first action of any kind. We hit the ball really well.”
<b>OVERALL, THE STALLIONS</b> knocked around 11 hits in the victory. Julia Kastner, a senior outfielder, hit a leadoff homerun and finished with two hits.
“That really jump-started our offense,” said Dillow, of Kastner’s homer.
Alex Brown, a senior second baseman, had three hits in the game with two RBI’s.
Both Kastner, who is set to play collegiately next school year at Temple University in Philadelphia, and Brown are South County’s lone two starters back from last year.
“Those two will be key this season with their experience and leadership,” said Dillow.
The coach said four to five freshmen players will be in the team’s starting line-up on a regular basis.
“As they get up to speed with the varsity game, I think we have a chance for a successful season,” said Dillow, of the progression he hopes to see of his ninth graders.
On the mound in the Robinson win, freshman Rebecca Martin and junior Kyra Ketch both pitched well. Martin went three innings as the starter before Ketch pitched the fourth through sixth innings. Martin came back to pitch in the seventh and final inning. Combined, the duo allowed just four hits. The two Stallion hurlers were backed by a defense that turned a pair of double plays.
Dillow said a staple of this year’s team is likely to be its hitting prowess.
“I think that our strength this year will be hitting,” he said. “With our returning seniors, and the new talent we have brought, we are going to hit the ball real well this year.”
But young teams can be unpredictable and Dillow said his Stallions will learn as they go.
“We are such a young squad, and we have a lot to learn about varsity softball, and playing together as a team,” he said.