Halls ends Lady Mavs’ season

Audrey Lankford makes the dive back to first base in last week’s Tuesday night district tournament game against Lady Red Devils of Halls. The Lady Mavs lost 7-2, ending their season. (photo:Tony Cox )
After a strong run into the district softball tournament, Anderson County lost to Halls 7-2 on Tuesday, May 11, finishing with four hits and one error.

The loss put the Lady Mavericks out of the tournament, ending a 31-14 season for the team.

The Lady Mavs struggled at the plate in the game, only managing to get on the board at the bottom of the seventh inning as Halls pitched a phenomenal game.

Audrey Lankford led at the plate with two hits, while MaKenzie Henderson finished with three walks as Halls intentionally walked the team’s cleanup hitter.

Henderson also finished with four quality-at-bats.

Reece Simpson pitched for the Lady Mavs over seven innings, tying with the Halls pitcher with 22 first-pitch strikes.

With their final record, the team finished as the second-highest in school history for wins. Allen Russell, head coach for the Lady Mavs, said that even though he’s disappointed they didn’t go farther, he never expected such a phenomenal season.

“At the beginning of the season, I was trying to schedule some easier games, but when the schedule eventually came out, I was looking at it like, ‘Oh my gosh. This isn’t going to be easy.’ That happens when you’ve had some pretty good teams the past few years like we’ve had, though. Not too many people want to play you.

“Then the season started, and we started off hot and realized we were winning some games. That’s when I realized we were going to be all right. Did we want to go farther? Yes. Did we exceed our expectations, though? Absolutely. I never would have guessed that we would finish 31-14.”

When asked who his standout players for the year were, Russell actually struggled with the question.

“I could literally look at every position we had and say, ‘You exceeded what I thought you were going to do this year.’ Every one of the girls did. Our pitching, our hitting, everything. At times we struggled, but for the most part, everyone exceeded our expectations, because despite having some seniors and some juniors playing, we were so young. They might have been juniors, seniors, and sophomores, but softball-wise, they were all behind from COVID. We thought we’d probably make some errors and stuff, but the girls went above and beyond where we thought we might end up.”

He did name a few players that he thought stood out.

“I will say Makenzie Henderson had a huge year for us both offensively and defensively,” he said. “Reece Simpson on the mound was another big one. Actually, all of our pitchers were standouts, for that matter. Reece didn’t pitch all 31 games we won. Lea Elkins got big wins for us, and so did Makayla Simmons. Those three pitchers were phenomenal. Abbie Buswell in center field had a great year for us as a senior, and so did Lea Elkins. Our younger girls, our sophomores and juniors that came in, they had a good year, too. Obviously, though, it starts in the circle, and I can say I’m really glad I’ve got Reece Simpson for one more year, and Makayla, too. I’ve got two well-above-average pitchers coming back next year who will be even better.”

One surprise standout was Mckenna Miller, Russell said.

“McKenna Miller didn’t start originally, but she had a phenomenal season. She’s a sophomore and didn’t have much experience as a freshman, so basically she was a freshman this year. She didn’t start at the beginning of this year, and that really bothered her, so she worked incredibly hard until we had some opportunities to get her in the game at second. She started hitting, and it got to the point where I couldn’t afford to take her out. She batted well over .400 for us and got hit over 18 times. She’s just one of those willing to do whatever it takes to get on base. She’s not the home-run type, but it makes it easier for her to fly under the radar for and people to underestimate how important she is. She had the second-highest on-base percentage, right behind Makenzie Henderson.”

Russell reflected on how far the program has come since he started, and what the future holds.

“This is a great program and it’s because we have great parents who trust the coaching staff to do what we need to do to have a great program,” he said. “And these parents have been willing to do whatever it takes to support us, whether that means raising money, working on the field, bringing food to the kids, whatever. We want the kids to have a great high school experience. They do that for us, and they do a great job. We don’t want people just to think this is only a football school. Our girls’ sports, and especially our softball program, is one of the top programs in East Tennessee.

“It’s come a long way from what it was when I started as an assistant,” Russell said. “Pretty much everything you see here is brand new. We’re adding a few things next year, too. We’re getting a new scoreboard, and we’re hopefully getting an indoor hitting facility here. It’s just more great things to happen for the program, and I tell our girls all the time that I really think our program is on the map now. People didn’t worry about us for a long time, but now when they line up across from us, they know who we are, and they think, ‘Man, we really have to play. We’re going up against Anderson County.’”