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Usual suspects favored again in '13 softball campaign


Topsail's Summer Darnell (11) pitches during the game against the Swansboro Pirates at Topsail High School in Hampstead, N.C. on Friday, March 30, 2012. (Photo by Staff Photo by Mike Spencer)


The youth movement in the Mideastern Conference is in full effect heading into the 2013 softball season.

It's no surprise that traditional powers Laney and Ashley are the conference favorites. What is surprising, though, is how young both teams are. Laney does not carry a single senior on the roster, while Ashley returns eight players from a team that went to the state quarterfinals in 2012.

The Bucs bring back six players from last year's squad, but will rely on their sophomore pitchers, predominately Shelby Cook and Hannah Key to carry the staff and replace StarNews All-Area Player of the Year Madi Johnston, who went 19-3 on the mound for the Bucs last year.

"I don't think you replace her (Johnston) just yet, but we have the keys," said Laney coach Jim Fisk. "We have two young ladies that will do well for us."

Beyond the city limits

Outside of the Mideastern Conference, Topsail is again the team to watch after a 25-1 season that ended in disappointment with a loss in the third round of the state playoffs.

The Pirates will have a bit of an adjustment period, as first year coach Amber Passwaters becomes the team's third head coach in as many years. However, she isn't concerned with things that happened last year or that there has been so much change at the top.

"I don't like to dwell on the past," said Passwaters. "We're on a mission to achieve the ultimate goal, but we understand that it's what we do on a daily basis that gets us to that goal."

One of the things Passwaters believes will be the strength of this year's team will be the pitching, led by 2012 StarNews All-Area Player of the Year Summer Darnell and fellow senior Zoe Howard.

"Their experience and leadership will take this squad into the next level," said Passwaters. "Ashton Bizzell is the lone junior on the team, and she's working her way into the rotation. Katie Abston was the JV's work-horse last season. She is a fierce competitor both in the circle and in the field. She'll be a major contributor to the pitching staff this season."

Another team to watch out for will be Whiteville, which came within a run a run of knocking off Topsail in the state playoffs last year and returns eight starters from that team.

The Wolfpack ended last year with a 17-9 record and will face stiff competition from West Bladen and West Brunswick, who finished ahead of them in the Waccamaw Conference in 2012.