Without enough girls to form a Blue Ridge Middle School softball team this year, and after a suggestion from a student, High School Math Teacher Eli Reece looked into the rules and soon three 8th-grade girls suited up and played their first game with the boys Middle School baseball team on Monday at home against Smoky Mountain.
“I knew that some of the girls have been playing softball their whole lives so those are the main ones I asked,” said Reece. “I got enough of them to show interest, so I started asking around about the rules of girls playing. The fact that the girls are talented definitely helps the acceptance by the other players on the team. I think that all of the kids are just excited to get the season underway.”
Eighth-graders Peyton Bryson, Macy Heltsley, and Mahalah Stewart braved the low 30-degree temperatures with the rest of the team, but Blue Ridge did not walk away with the win losing 8-19. Reece, also the team’s Volunteer Coach, said the team played well and the girls are a great addition to the roster.
“We put together a few hits in the fourth inning to make it a game,” said Reece. “Mahalah and Peyton both had multiple hits to drive in runs. We need to work on our accuracy from the mound. Our pitchers haven’t had much time for skill practice, but we are planning on working a lot on that today (Tuesday). Also, our infield will be getting some practice in on making the right play.”
Blue Ridge had just over a week to practice, only getting on the field three times before their first game. Bryson is the catcher and said she’s excited to be on the team and maybe show the boys a thing or two. She added using a baseball instead of a softball is not an issue, but squatting all day in the catcher’s position can be exhausting.
“After you squat for a whole game, when you stand up your legs feel like they’re made of Jello,” she said.
Stewart said switching from playing softball to baseball isn’t much of a leap in terms of skillsets, but there are some things she noticed during their game against Smoky Mountain.
“We did ok,” said Stewart. “We made a few errors, but we played our best after only a couple days of practice on the field. And it’s really different not seeing any girls on the other team, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Levi Walters pitched in the latter half of the game and said given the amount of practice time they have put in, he’s thinks they played well and is optimistic about the season.
“I think we did really good,” said Levi Walters. “We just need to switch up some positions and try some new stuff.”
He added that playing in the cold didn’t significantly affect immediate gameplay.
“It was freezing,” said Walters. “If you got hit with the ball anywhere but the glove, you’re going to be sore for a couple of days.”
Reece said they had limited practice time on the field due to weather.
“We had our first practice on the 19th, but have only been able to practice on the field three total times because of all of the rain,” he said. “We have had most of our practices in the batting cages only. The team has a total of five players who have actually played organized baseball before, and we are hoping that those core players can be strong for us.”
He added that despite minimal practice time, he is proud of Blue Ridge’s performance.
“We put together a few hits in the fourth inning to make it a game,” said Reece. “Mahalah and Peyton both had multiple hits to drive in runs. We need to work on our accuracy from the mound. Our pitchers haven’t had much time for skill practice, but we are planning on working a lot on that today. Also, our infield will be getting some practice in on making the right play.”
Reece said he may put Stewart on the mound at their next game at 4 p.m. at home on Thursday, March 7.
“I know that these girls are athletic and two of them play travel softball during the summer,” said Reece. “One of the girls is going to be our starting catcher (Bryson) and the other two will be starting in the infield. We have also tried out one of the girls (Stewart) at pitcher and she has been throwing hard and accurate so far. She will definitely be getting an appearance on the mound and maybe even a start on the mound very soon.”
Pictured at the top of the article is Peyton Bryson crossing home plate. The run was called back because the runner was tagged out on first closing the inning.