High school softball outlook

Two outs.

That’s how close the Clarke County softball team came to making the Class 2 state tournament last season.

Leading 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles fell 3-2 to a rally by Page County, which went on to finish as the state runner-up.

Throughout last season, Clarke County (18-6) proved it could beat some of the area’s toughest competition. In addition to a 9-1 win over Page County, the Eagles swept two games each from Class 4 James Wood and Sherando.

And with a solid cast back from last season, Clarke County coach Darren Lambert is looking to take another shot at a state run.

The Eagles return shortstop Madison Edwards, who won the Region 2B, Bull Run District and Winchester Star Player of the Year accolades. The slick-fielding Edwards, who is headed to James Madison University, led the area in batting average (.580), runs (41) and on-base percentage (.649) and also swiped 16 bases. Edwards may even see time in the circle this season.

Clarke County also returns Anna Hornbaker, who played third base and also pitched when Eagles ace Abby Peace (now at Potomac State College) was out of the circle. Hornbaker was an outstanding 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 71 strikeouts. She also hit .304 at the plate and was a First Team All-Region 2B and Bull Run pick.

James Wood (12-11) continued its string of six consecutive regional appearances, punctuated by a win in the Class 4 Northwestern District Tournament against regular-season champion Fauquier.

Patrick Gibson, a longtime assistant coach under Todd Baker, takes over the program and he has plenty of talent returning and a new face from a familiar foe that could make an impact.

The Colonels, who rallied for several comeback wins last season, return three All-District players in second baseman Izzy McKee, catcher Sydney Orndorff and outfielder/pitcher Cadence Rieg.

McKee (headed to West Liberty) was fifth in the area with a .421 average, while driving in 20 runs, scoring 24 and belting four homers. Orndorff (headed to Eastern Mennonite) hit .343, while leading the Colonels with six homers and 24 RBIs and like McKee was a First Team All-Region 4C pick. Rieg hit .384, while scoring 17 runs and driving in 16 to go along with two homers. In the circle, she was 4-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 54 strikeouts.

Joining the Colonels is former Handley standout Jenna Shull, a transfer. Shull hit .385 to lead the Judges and was second in the area with a .547 on-base percentage. Handley’s primary pitcher also was second in the area with 119 strikeouts.

Millbrook (12-9) served notice last season that it was a program on the rise. The Pioneers had their first winning season since 2014, knocked off Fauquier once during the regular season and fell in a 4-3 nail-biter to James Wood in the district semifinals.

Carolyn Campbell returns a solid core group of players, including Class 4 Northwestern District Co-Player of the Year Alexis McFarland. The shortstop led the area with eight homers and was second with a .486 average, 33 RBIs and 32 runs. She also was a First Team All-Region 4C pick.

As a freshman, Allie Simmons was fourth in the area with a .421 average and scored 20 runs. Lefty Emily Jeffries was 12-8, registering 111 strikeouts.

Sherando (8-13) struggled last season, but is looking to rebound. Mark Conner returns several players that pack some wallop at the plate.

Center fielder Abby Vadnais led the area with 18 stolen bases, while hitting .382 with 24 runs and 16 RBIs and was selected First Team All-Northwestern District and Second Team All-Region 4C.

Third baseman Jaeda Long hit .418 with 19 runs, 19 RBIs and two homers, while second baseman Madison Harris hit .344 with two homers and scored 27 runs.

Handley (2-19) is still looking to compete in the tough district. Aside from senior Laura Hogan, second-year coach Amanda Butts will have a lot of new faces in the lineup.

The following is a capsule look at the area teams with information provided by the coaches:

Clarke County

Coach: Darren Lambert, third season

Last season: 18-6 overall, 10-4 Bull Run District, Region 2B semifinalist

Key losses: Abigail Peace, Kacie Turner, Hailey Farmer, Ellie Taylor, Bella Stem.

Key returners: Madison Edwards (Sr., SS/P); Anna Hornbaker (Jr., P/IF); Campbell Paskel (Sr., CF/IF); Devin Simmons-McDonald (So., IF); Kendyl Lambert (Jr., IF); Courtney Paskel (So., OF).

Key newcomers: Autumn Bell (So., IF); Jenna Hindman (So., C); Brooke Choate (Fr., IF); Claire Unger (Fr., OF); Emma Johnson (Fr., OF).

Lambert’s outlook: “We will have a lot of young players stepping into the starting lineup this year. With that being said, my expectations will be the same as any other season. I expect to compete and play fundamental softball each game. We will also have a good time while doing so. Anna Hornbaker has been very impressive with her pitching sessions. I look for her to have a big year on the mound this year. Madison Edwards continues to improve each season with her growth and maturity. Courtney Paskel has been hitting the ball really well during the first two weeks of practice.”

First game: Monday at Page County

James Wood

Coach: Patrick Gibson, first season

Last year: 12-11 overall, 8-4 Class 4 Northwestern District, district tournament champion, Region 4C semifinalist

Key losses: Laken Whipkey, Caitlyn Shutts, Kylie Prusik, Nichole Rowe.

Key returners: Sadie Kittoe (Sr., SS); Izzy McKee (Sr., 2B); Sydney Orndorff (Sr., C), Ellie Johnson (Sr., RF/P); Georgia Carter (Sr., 3B); Cadence Rieg (Jr., P/ CF); Skyla Compton (Jr., OF); Aliza Judd (So., 1B/C).

Key newcomers: Jenna Shull (Jr., 1B/P); Brynnen Williams (Fr., IF/OF); Kayleigh Harden (Fr., IF); Emma Pitta. (Jr., 3B/C).

Gibson’s outlook: “My expectations for the season are to make it to regionals for the seventh year in a row and make a run at states. Anything less than that is a disappointing season. It won’t be easy but we have the talent to do it. All three of our pitchers are throwing extremely well and we are very strong up the middle. I’m very happy with our overall depth and athleticism off the bench. Every day in practice is a competition for a spot and I can see kids being pushed to earn one.”

First game: Monday vs. Skyline


Coach: Carolyn Campbell, second season

Last year: (12-9 overall, 7-5 Class 4 Northwestern District)

Key losses: Kenzie Edwards, Paige Flinchum, Ashlyn Philyaw.

Key returners: Emily Jeffries (Sr., P); Alexis McFarland (Jr., SS); Grace Badnek (Sr., OF); Allie Simmons (So., 2B/OF); Jazmyne Scott (Sr., 1B).

Key newcomers: Emma Martin (Fr., P/U); Jazmin Orr (So., IF/C); Rowan McCullough (Fr., OF).

Campbell’s outlook: “We want to play until the very last out of the game, do everything with a purpose and become better and smarter players. Emma Martin brings great power on the mound. Emma and Emily Jeffries will compliment each other well this season. Rowan McCullough has speed unlike anyone else I’ve seen in a long time and a cannon for an arm. She will be a huge asset in our outfield. Alexis McFarland, last season’s [co-]Player of the Year in our district, continues to get stronger. She is quick on her feet, smart and continues to have a strong bat. … We play in a competitive district, but we plan to be competing for the title this season. Our opponents are strong, but so are we. We proved to everyone last year that we are only getting better and plan to improve on that this year.”

First game: Monday at Loudoun Valley


Coach: Mark Conner, second season

Last season: 8-13 overall, 5-7 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: Isabell Hall, Meghan Harris, Emma Chunta, Abbie Schellhammer.

Key returners: Madison Harris (Sr., IF); Jaeda Long (Sr., IF); Anna Borst (Jr., OF/IF); Santanna Puller (Jr., P/IF); Abby Vadnais (Jr., OF); Allison Williams (Jr., U); Kayla Grum (So., C).

Key newcomers: Zoe Costello (Sr., U); Kendra Chunta (So., U); Meghan Walker (So., U); Aubrey Weir (So., P/IF); Mady Cox (Fr., U); Lily Wray (Fr., P/IF).

Conner’s outlook: “I want to see us improving on our record from last season, competing in every game for seven innings and to do a much better job this year executing in pressure situations. As always, it will be a very competitive season within our district. If we play like we’re capable of, we expect to compete for the district title.”

First game: March 14 at Loudoun County


Coach: Amanda Butts, second season

Last season: 2-19 overall, 0-12 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: Sara Blowers; Talley Sublett; Jenna Shull.

Key returners: Laura Hogan (Sr., U); Khadijah Long (Jr., 3B/1B); Mason Rinker (Jr., U); Haley Davis, (So., CF/2B).

Key newcomers: Lily Shearer (Fr., P/C/SS), Alaina Daugherty (Fr., P/C/SS); Ainsley Matheny (Fr., P/IF).

Butts’ outlook: “We are excited to grow our skills as a young team. Our players are tough, both physically and mentally. They will be expected to play multiple positions in addition to several roles within the team. We have been preparing to be relentless in our pursuit of working hard to accomplish gains. Our goal is to play one inning at a time, focusing on performing our best and learning from every play. We will rely on our senior standout Laura Hogan to lead us with her experience on the field and dynamic power at the plate. … We are very excited to have Lily Shearer begin her high school softball career with us as a freshman. Lily will be our starting pitcher, but also excels in any position on the field. Lily plays the game with passion and loves a good challenge. She is hungry to gain insightful experience every chance she gets. She demonstrates the way the game is intended to be played to all of those around her. She will be fun to watch the next four years.”

First game: Monday at Park View

— Contact Walt Moody at
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