Skyline softball preview

Skyline left fielder Abbey Lee, left, and center fielder Alana Smith, right, celebrate a catch made by Lee during their Region 3B semifinal last year in Front Royal. The Hawks return most of their squad, which advanced to the Class 3 state semifinals last season.

FRONT ROYAL — After coming close to the ultimate goal of winning a state title last year, Skyline’s softball team has its sights set on a return trip to the state tournament.

The Hawks have all the pieces to make their dream come true. Last year the Hawks lost in the Class 3 state semifinals.

“Chemistry has always been there on this team and it’s still there,” Skyline senior Rachel Sirbaugh said. “We got a lot of young ones coming up from (junior varsity) that I think are really going to put us over that edge, and help us get to our ultimate goal that we didn’t reach last year.”

Skyline returns most of its lineup from last season and added a few players. One of those players is junior Taylor Bowers, a transfer from Strasburg High School. Bowers hit .471 (24-for-51) last year for the Rams.

They have two freshmen — Astoria Free and Grace Benson — who Skyline coach John Ritter said will be vying for playing time. Sophomore Tiara Ford and junior Mackenzie Amos will also be battling for playing time and junior Lauryn Nelson is back after not playing on the team last season.

But most of Skyline’s team this season played a huge role in their success last year starting with seniors Sirbaugh, Abbey Lee, Alana Smith and Valarie Martin.

Ritter said that all four play a key role in the team’s leadership.

“It’s a good bond, good leadership with all the girls,” Ritter said. “All four seniors do what they got to do. So it makes it easier on me. I can address other things as far as that goes.”

Smith said that the bond that the four seniors has also helps them be better leaders.

“Since freshman year we’ve all been on the team,” Smith said. “So I think that helps a lot to know that we’ve all played together before. So the chemistry is good. The four of us have experienced varsity together. So we have a lot of leaders.”

Juniors Emma Benson and Olivia Heflin also return to the squad as does sophomore Lexi Clatterbuck.

The big position the Hawks need to fill is pitcher. Tamara Grayson graduated last year after having a strong season in the circle. She had an area-best 1.54 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 104.2 innings.

Ritter said the Hawks will use four pitchers this season. He said that Emma Benson, Martin, Clatterbuck and Amos will each see time in the circle.

“It’s a lot different this year because we’re replacing (Grayson),” Martin said. “But I think we’ll do good. I know we will. I’m really excited, but I just feel a lot more pressure. But I’m still really excited.”

Martin said it helps knowing that she has a great defense behind her when she’s pitching.

Ritter said his players have a lot of versatility and they will be moving players in different positions if needed.

One area the Hawks have been strong at over the years has been their hitting. Last year Sirbaugh led the area with a .646 batting average (42-for-65) with 16 doubles and 30 RBIs.

The Hawks had seven players bat over .300. Sirbaugh said she expects the team to hit the ball well again this season.

“We understand that our defense is going to have to be tight,” Sirbaugh said. “And we’re going to have to hit the ball in order to win games now that we don’t have (Grayson) here to get us out of those close games. So we’re just going to have to understand that we’re going to have to be mainly a hitting team this year.”

Skyline hosts Central today in the season opener.

Lee said that the seniors want to make the most of their senior year.

“We’ve been playing together since JV and now this is our last season,” Lee said. “And we’re not going to see each other next year. So it’s also pretty sad. We definitely want to go out with a bang like we did last year, but hopefully we’ll go further than we did last year.”

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com