Coach Larry Settle may have had his Rappahannock County High School varsity softball team members a little confused the first three weeks of the season.
The main focus of every practice, it seemed, was defense.
Hitting the cutoff man. Covering on bunts. Turning the double play. Throwing to the correct base.
“But I think we accomplished a lot,” said Settle.
In two scrimmages, the Panthers committed just three errors.
“In the middle, we want to keep it tight and strong,” he said. “We’re going to get hit. We know this. We need to focus on the defense, keep the strong arms in the middle of that defense, and we’ll be fine.”
Although this is his first year as the softball program’s head coach, Settle is no stranger to Rappahannock County sports. He served as an assistant baseball coach for five years. He also has coached several youth baseball and softball teams for more than 20 years.
Because of his connection to the Panther family, Settle got help from community members to rebuild the field. One big change is that the mound has been moved back three feet, which could decrease the velocity the pitch will have.
“We’ve redone the infield with new dirt. It should give a better roll, a more consistent roll to the ball,” he added. “Maybe we won’t get any surprise rolls or bad hops out there.”
His early emphasis on defense could pay dividends for Rappahannock County, which returns five seniors to a lineup that should challenge for the Group A Bull Run District title this season.
The Panthers have an experienced battery in catcher Hanna Kopjanski and pitcher Megan Early. The two, along with center fielder Lauren Settle, and shortstop-third baseman Brittani Dodson, are four-year varsity players. Left fielder Taylor Berta is the other senior in the starting lineup.
Early will share the pitching duties, with sophomore Peyton Bailey, who spent last spring with the junior varsity team. When Bailey is on the mound, Early moves to short, and Dodson goes to third. When Early is pitching, Dodson starts at short and Bailey moves to the outfield.
Lauren Settle, who, along with Dodson, earned All-District honors last spring, moves from the infield to center field. She gives the Panthers a strong arm and speed to cover plenty of ground.
“All of our kids play at least two positions,” said Settle.
Settle has a sixth senior, Amy Scogno, who may make a late-season contribution to the Rappahannock County lineup. But in a scrimmage at Luray, Scogno seriously injured a knee. She will miss seven or eight weeks of the season. If she is healthy, she could be a pinch-hitter or designated hitter around postseason time.
“I like Amy’s offensive effort at the plate,” Settle said.
Rappahannock County has three sophomores who will play key roles this season. Lyndie Paul will start at second base. Caitlin Miller will split time between second and third. Casey Fletcher will start in right field. She also serves as the backup catcher.
Freshman Maddie Kopjanski earned the starting job at first base. Settle said that Kopjanski is tall and fields her position well. Shelby Thornhill will be a utility player for the Panthers, splitting time at third and in the outfield. Katie Barney is a strong hitter who will give the outfield some additional help.
The Panthers opened their season Wednesday (March 16, after press time) with a non-district game against Eastern View. They host Culpeper at 6 Thursday (March 17).
Settle has realistic goals for his Panthers.
“I would be very surprised and upset if we don’t play .500 ball,” Settle said. “I already have the district, regional and state spreadsheets up in the dugout.”