ELKIN - A lot has changed for the Elkin softball program.
A year ago, the Lady Elks finished with a disappointing 1-15 mark in league play, missing the postseason entirely. Fast forward 12 months and Elkin is primed and ready to make a deep run in the upcoming Mountain Valley Conference tournament.
“Credit a group of girls trying to build a legacy for Elkin High School softball,” coach Steve Shaw said. “That’s something we’ve preached all year long, ‘who are we going to build this for?’ Kids don’t want to keep coming to a losing program. These girls are not only playing for the names on their shirts, but for the little ones that are coming up.”
Shaw credit second-year head coach Billy Palmer for Elkin’s dramatic turnaround.
“I would have to say the big improvement to our program is Coach Palmer,” he said. “We had to build this team; travel ball hasn’t built this team. And I have to say Palmer and his tactics have led to this turnaround. One minute he’ll have the girls hating him and the next they’ll love him; he knows how to get the best out of them. He knows how to build the confidence.”
The Elks revitalization was put to the test Friday afternoon when defending conference champion West Wilkes traveled to Crater Park for the regular-season finale.
In the first meeting, the Blackhawks trounced Elkin 12-0 in five innings, but the story was much different in Round Two.
The Elks struck first against West (13-1) in the second. Nicole Collins led off the frame with a single before coming around to score to put the Blackhawks in an uncomfortable 1-0 hole early on.
“West’s coach didn’t like it when we scored that first run. We had them scared today,” third baseman Kaitlin Faw said.
But West responded in the third, plating four runs in the inning to grab a 4-1 advantage.
Faw and the Elks answered. After Bethany Turner roped a single to left to lead off the frame, Faw ripped a two-out double to the left-center gap to score Turner and cut the lead down to 4-2.
The ‘Hawks buckled down and added a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh to thwart Elkin’s upset bid, holding on for the 7-2 victory.
“We gave a 13-1 team a ballgame today,” Faw said. “Last time we played them, they sent us home in five innings, but we really improved today. Our bats were on for the most part, we just didn’t hit them in the gap like they did, we hit them right to the glove. We played as a team today.”
“If we played like this all year long, we’d have a better win/loss record,” Shaw explained. “I have to brag on Kaitlin Faw today. She missed all of last season but knocked the rust off and stepped up this year. She was the star of the game. She made some great plays at third.
“It seems that every time we hit the ball, we hit it right to a glove,” he continued. “But today was good for our girls - it gave them the confidence they need heading into the conference tournament this week.”
Elkin finishes the regular season with an 8-8 mark in league play - a dramatic seven-win improvement from a year ago - and will likely finish as the No. 4 seed in the upcoming conference tournament, which would lock up a home playoff game.
“We’re excited. We’re hoping we can get a rematch with Starmount or Forbush and I feel like we can give both of them better games that we did,” Shaw said. “With both me and Palmer being out of Yadkin County, those are wins we’d both like to have. Our girls are ready to face whoever. They are just excited to be ranked so high going into the conference playoffs, coming from a team that won one game to winning eight - we have a special group of girls.”
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.