Experience on side of Lady 'Dogs

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The Hampton softball team is like a gas heater after not being in use over the summer. The Lady Bulldogs are hoping things still work after a long lay-off.
   The Lady Bulldogs came within one game of making the state tournament last season, and return 12 players from the squad. But there is a problem Hampton will have to face.
   Hampton is now a Class AA school, and will have to face the likes of Unicoi County, Happy Valley and Elizabethton.
   Hampton also has a new coach, as Patrick Kelly takes over for Danny McClain.
   Kelly believes the move up will be tough.
   "We're going to try and keep the momentum going," Kelly said. "But it will definitely be a challenge for us being in a new class."
   McClain turned the Hampton program around during his tenure, and Kelly says the transition has been a smooth one.
   "Everything has been all right," Kelly said. "Coach McClain has given me advice, and told me who were at the key positions last year. He still assists here and there. We have a good working relationship, so it's not been a problem at all."
   The biggest problem Kelly has had to deal with is the lack of practice time. A lot of the Hampton players were members of the Lady Bulldogs' District 1-AA Championship team, so they are just starting to get into the swing of things.
   "It could take us awhile to get into high gear, but we should be OK," Kelly said.
   The top returning players from last year are pitcher Amanda Finney, shortstop/pitcher Joy Gardner and catcher Cindy Hyatt.
   Kelly really believes that Finney is going to be tough on the mound this season, and is hoping other pitchers will step up.
   "Amanda is very strong," Kelly said. "There are four that I'm working with. If we pitch strikes and don't walk a lot of batters, I think we'll do all right."
   Gardner is a sophomore that had a phenomenal freshman season last year. Kelly is expecting her to become more of a leader in 2002.
   "I'm hoping she will be a team leader this year," Kelly said.
   Kelly is not sure yet who his starters are going to be, but hopes to have that decided in the next few days.
   "They haven't been on the field much," Kelly said. "We're hoping to solidify things before we go on the field on Tuesday."
   No matter who he has out there, Kelly thinks his team could be sound defensively this year.
   "We have some experience in the field," Kelly said. "There's a good chance we'll be fairly strong defensively. But it's hard to tell until you go up against another team."
   It will be tough to get back to the sub-state with the Lady 'Dogs moving up to Class AA, but Kelly still has high hopes for his team.
   "We're hoping to be competitive," Kelly said.