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Tight-knit Lady Indians led by accomplished class of seniors

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By Sean Arnold

The Chiefland High School softball team has reached the stage where its championships could nearly be taken for granted.

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But don’t expect any such thing from head coach Wayne Weatherford and his latest club, which includes six seniors that have been integral – or at least involved in – three straight state titles.

It’s also not a team that’s let its individual accolades get in the way of the team goals, which would be understandable for a club that’s sending at least five players to the college ranks next year alone.

“They’ve been there three times, and it’s something they know is within their grasp,” said Weatherford, who is in his 24th year (nonconsecutive) as a head coach. “They’re one of these team’s that are really tight, really close.

“Each time, you’ve got to find what works for the girls,” he added. “With this bunch, you push and push and they’ll stand up to you and do what you need them to do.”

The Lady Indians lose three starters from last year’s 28-1 squad, and for almost any other club, the loss of that talent would crash a team’s prospects.

Four-year starting pitcher Lauren Stalvey was twice named Florida Dairy Farmers 1A Player of the Year, and joined teammate Takiya London as a MaxPreps Small Schools All-American last season, culminating her Chiefland career with a 1.20 ERA and 22-1 mark. Also gone are first baseman and slugger Morgan Anderson, who earned first team all-state honors with a .400 average, five home runs and 41 RBIs; and utility speedster and right fielder Hannah Gore, who picked up second-team all-state honors last year.

Sophomore Kensley Durrance should make for a smooth transition in the circle. As a freshman, Durrance was more than capable in her relief duties, posting a 0.74 ERA and putting in extensive outings in the playoffs, including a nine-inning stint in the state semifinal win over Franklin County. Junior Taylor Simpson, meanwhile, is set for the reliever role.

“I think we’ll be strong at pitching again,” Weatherford said. “If we can keep Kensley well, we should have a really good season.”

First base duties will be most likely handled by sophomore newcomer Macie Thomas and do-it-all senior Lauren Parker, an all-state first-teamer who batted .447 with 41 runs and 10 doubles as an outfielder last year. Thomas is a varsity newcomer who’s shown impressive power at practice, according to Weatherford.

Gore’s departure leaves an opening in right field, where an athletically-versatile Aleaha Rhoomes could see extensive action as one of the team’s seniors. Samantha Rolfe joins Parker and Rhoomes to make for a formidable senior trio in the outfield.

London is back at shortstop after being named Miracle Sports Florida 1A Player of the Year in 2016. Her .520 batting average went along with 22 extra-base hits, including six home runs. She also stole 35 bases on 35 attempts, and her glove was validated with a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015.

Senior Emily Hallman is back behind the dish again after an all-state season which included Miracle Sports Florida 1A Defensive Player of the Year. Hallman’s bat is as potent as her defensive talent, as seen by her red hot start to this season.

Chiefland is set at second and third base with senior Sydney Parks, a second-team Miracle Sports all-state pick last year, and junior Erika Gilliam, respectively. Gilliam hit .414 as the team’s youngest starter a year ago and was a key defensive player in the postseason, while Parks adds both speed and power to the mix as a smooth-fielding second baseman.

Offensively, the Lady Indians figure to lead with their power and speed.

The championships naturally lead to a big target on the team’s back, and Chiefland faces some formidable tests in the regular season. Inside the district, Trenton made the regional finals last year and was off to a 4-0 start heading into this week. In non-district play, the Indians twice face a Union County (Lake Butler) club with high prospects as well as Lecanto, Dunnellon and Crystal River.

“We’ve got a lot to work on, we know we do,” Weatherford said after his team’s win at Bell last Friday. “We’ve got to improve. There are other teams in the area out there working real hard to knock us off the block.”

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The Chiefland softball team cruised to a 3-0 start to the regular season last week, with shutout wins at Taylor County (Perry), Bronson and Bell.The Lady Indians prevailed 17-0 in the opener in Perry before defeating the Eagles and Bulldogs 10-0 apiece.

Sophomore Kensley Durrance, who issued a six-inning no-hitter in Bronson, picked up wins in the circle in all three games, as she combined for 21 strikeouts in 13 innings without allowing a walk or a run.

Senior catcher Emily led Chiefland at the plate in Bell last Friday, as she went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and a triple. Hallman also tossed out a runner at first from behind the plate. Senior Aleaha Rhoomes was 2 for 2 with a steal, and senior third baseman Erika Gilliam added a double.

Senior Sydney Parks and junior Karlie Meeks each had multi-hit games against Bronson, with Parks chipping in a pair of doubles, and senior Takiya London added a couple of stolen bases for Chiefland. Senior Lauren Parker doubled for CMHS.

At Taylor County, Hallman, Gilliam and Macie Thomas each went 2 for 4, and Rhoomes homered in the game. Hallman had a double and a triple, and Thomas and Rolfe added a double apiece.

Lady Indians suffered their first loss of the season with an 11-1 defeat at Union County (Lake Butler) on Monday.

The loss, which dropped the team to 3-1 heading into Tuesday’s game against Branford, was the program’s most lopsided since 2014, and snaps a 24-game winning streak.

The Tigers figure to be one of the powerhouses of Class 1A, as they’ve raced out to a 6-1 start.

CMHS was missing its standout senior catcher and slugger, Emily Hallman, who was away on an out-of-state trip. It was the sixth straight road game for Chiefland, counting the preseason.

The teams meet for a rematch in Chiefland on March 21.

The Lady Indians next face Bronson Tuesday in Chiefland, before meeting Trenton Friday, March 10, at home.