As high school softball season returns, two schools in Stanly County will try and defend their state titles while other schools try to catch up to the championship programs.
West Stanly Colts (Rocky River Conference 2A/3A)
2022 Record: 29-4, 8-0
Led by Emily Smith — now in her second season as coach — the reigning Rocky River Conference champions and three-time defending 2A state champions have put together quite a resume in the NCHSAA softball landscape with titles in 1997, 2013, 2019, 2021 and 2022.
The drive for a sixth title is on track as the majority of last season’s team returns for another campaign. That includes senior pitcher Lily Huneycutt, who won 27 games with a 13.2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year.
With 11 upperclassmen on the roster, the Colts (1-1) opened this season with a 2-1 road loss to Southwestern Randolph on Feb. 28 and followed that with a 10-0 home win over Carson on March 1.
North Stanly Comets (Yadkin Valley Conference 1A/2A)
2022 Record: 12-9, 4-6
Coach Phillip Speight and the Comets began last season with an eight-game winning streak, but North Stanly ended its season losing seven of eight.
After finishing fourth in the Yadkin Valley Conference last year, the Comets will look to emerge from the middle of the pack despite having a younger squad that only features three seniors.
On Feb. 28, North (1-2) began its 2023 campaign with a 5-2 road loss to East Rowan but recovered with a 19-1 road win over Forest Hills a day later. The Comets then dropped a 9-8 road matchup versus Anson on March 3.
South Stanly Rebel Bulls (Yadkin Valley Conference 1A/2A)
2022 Record: 30-3, 10-0
Much like West’s softball program, South has also become a local powerhouse with a fierce reputation. Longtime coach David Poplin and his reigning 1A state and YVC champions battled back from the heartbreak of losing the 2021 state title by going right back and avenging their loss.
With a state title under its belt, South returns with five seniors who played a large role last season, including 2022 Yadkin Valley Conference Player of the Year Mattie Poulos.
The Bulls open their season at Anson on March 9 before traveling to Piedmont a day later. South is currently riding a 13-game win streak that dates to the middle of last season.
Gray Stone Day Knights (Yadkin Valley Conference 1A/2A)
2022 Record: 11-11, 2-8
While the Knights reached a double-digit win total last year, they struggled in conference play and finished fifth in the YVC standings.
Coach Darrell Furr and his Gray Stone team (2-0) have already gotten off to a strong start this spring with a 7-4 home win over Mountain Island Charter on Feb. 27 and an 11-1 road win against West Cabarrus on March 1.
The Knights haven’t had a winning season since 2017 when they finished with a 21-7 record.