Spring 2022 Preview: Forsyth Softball

By Chris Parker

Forsyth softball won back-to-back district titles and won at least 20 games in each of two seasons. The Lady Panthers have posted a winning season every year they have been a spring softball program.

This level of success has been achieved through the consistent hard work of the program’s players and coaches. More of that hard work will be needed if Forsyth is to overcome the hump and make a final four.

“Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula we can apply to make this (a finish in the final four) happen,” Forsyth head coach Jeff Walls said. “In 2019, we made tremendous strides as a program that resulted in unprecedented success for our student-athletes. In 2021, our student-athletes rose to meet the challenges of a tougher schedule while missing out on a year that could have been very special. We also met an exceptional pitcher in Sammi Huck who got the better of us. This season, we have further tightened our calendar, and the challenges remain the same: seize the opportunities that arise; control what we can control; work every day to be a little better than the day before.

Second-team All-State wide receiver Oletha Rich returns for Forsyth.

“Since freshman year, Oletha has been a leader for us. Her composure and high softball IQ definitely acts as a calming factor for our pitchers and our entire defense,” Walls said. “Oletha’s softball IQ is exceptionally high. She has played a lot of competitive softball and it shows in the way she plays the game. She is also an extremely hard worker.

Rich hit .458 with 38 RBI and 38 runs scored last year. She is signed to play at the top level with North Arkansas CC.

Kloe Hendrickson moved from the infield to the outfield last year and quickly won honors from all regions.

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“To be honest, Kloe had been an infielder her whole life before last year. We encourage our players to learn multiple positions though. After seeing Kloe in the outfield at the start of the season, we knew she would play a huge role in the outfield for us. We moved him to the outfield because of his natural ability to read the ball off the bat,” Walls said. “I expect Kloe to pick up there where she left off last season. She will be in the middle of our order in mass production capacity.

Hendrickson posted a .538 on-base percentage last year with 17 RBI and 23 runs scored.

Emmalea Cook (senior shortstop) and Landry Stuart (senior second baseman) will be key players on the infield. McKenzie Calhoun will play in center field. Cook hit .317 with .429 on-base percentage as a junior while stealing 16 bases. She also scored 36 points. Stuart had a .329 on-base percentage with 18 RBIs. Calhoun was on base 35.5% of the time last year.

Sophomore Lindsey Essary and Hendrickson will be Fosyth’s lead pitchers this year. Essary pitched 39 innings last year and had 19 strikeouts with a 3.59 ERA.

“Lindsey got a lot of college experience last year. She’s by far our finest pitcher, and I’m looking forward to her finding her full stride this year,” Walls said. Kloe’s hard work got her talking about making big starts in the circle for us. She controls the ball well and hits her points well.

Emmy Blevins will play third base. Paige Rowton, Savannah Koen, Haley Avis and Lili Roberts will all feature at first base.

Emma Woodward, Zoe White and Lily White along with some of the first base candidates are in the mix for outfield time alongside Hendrickson and Calhoun.

“I think our greatest strength is our experience. We only lost three starters from last year’s team. We have several athletes who have played in many great games, and I’m counting on us to use that experience to our advantage,” Walls said. “Like any team, we will have to find consistency. Depending on who is in the circle for us, we will have moving parts and people changing positions.

Forsyth opens the season March 19 at the Mid-Lakes Conference Tournament.

“In the grand scheme of things, we want to play meaningful games in May,” Walls said. “We don’t really preach goals with our teams. We challenge each of our student-athletes to improve day by day. If we can do that, I think success will take care of itself.