When a new season begins, the Clover High School girls’ softball team doesn’t rebuild; it reloads.
The Lady Blue Eagles have won the Region 3-AAAA championship the last three years, a rare feat.
“That target on our back gets bigger each year,” said head coach Shea Hall during an afternoon indoor practice session last week
Hall said the CHS girls gained valuable practice during fall. “The South Carolina High School League allows 20 fall practice sessions,” Hall said. “The fall practices were good for team chemistry and player development. We have a good many ninth-graders contributing to the program, and 28 players altogether.”
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Clover opponents will continue to see double this season in identical twins Brittany and Brooke Rhinehart, whose presence is a vital part of the team’s success.
The senior mainstays, who have signed to play for Erskine College next season, will be counted on heavily at the plate and in the field as the Lady Blue Eagles strive to continue an incredible run in the region.
“Our senior year of regular-season play is sneaking up on us,” said center-fielder Brittany Rhinehart. “We’re excited about playing another season at Clover High. We feel good about the young players who can help us this year.”
Third baseman Brooke Rhinehart said “the new players are working hard to get it right.”
Both say they recognize the benefits of fall practice. “We were able to work on the basic fundamentals of the game at our fall practices,” said Brooke Rhinehart. “We’re playing faster in the preseason because of the fall workouts.”
Juniors Marisa Harkey and Blake Wallert return as serious hitters. Harkey belted two three-run homers in one inning her freshman year.
“I have confidence in my hitting but defense is the key to our success,” said shortstop Harkey.
Harkey said the Lady Blue Eagles are building team chemistry, with first-year varsity players blending with solid returnees.
“We need to keep giving 100 percent every practice and every game,” she said. “There can be no letup. We cannot back off.”
Second-baseman Wallert’s timely hitting contributed to the team’s title success last season. “We’re excited about a new season and looking for everything to come together,” she said.
Wallert said hitting has a lot to do with a player’s confidence, but “you also have to work to develop your skills.”
With the return of solid personnel, including ace pitcher Elizabeth Edmunds, it’s no wonder the Lady Blue Eagles have a target on their back; however, “We have players who’d rather be practicing in the freezing rain today instead of indoors,” Hall said. “It’s that kind of commitment.”
While a many high school softball programs encourage travel ball participation, Hall has her own formula that’s produced one of the elite girls’ softball programs in the Upstate.
“I want our girls to take pride playing for Clover High School,” she said. “That’s our primary focus.”
CHS will play will host Union at 6 p.m. Thursday and travel to South Point for a 5:30 p.m. game Friday.