By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For someone who considered herself a basketball-first student-athlete, Kileigh Blackwell left quite a mark on the softball program during high school.
The Hokes Bluff senior pitched and batted her way to Player of the Year honors for the 2022 All-Messenger softball team.
As the Lady Eagles’ ace on the mound, Blackwell (pictured above) posted an earned run average of .123 with 166 strikeouts in 177 innings. She had six shutouts and a pair of no-hitters while going 24-10-2. At the plate, Blackwell batted .333 with 35 hits, 30 RBI and 23 runs.
In March, Blackwell was selected as the Class 3A Region 6 winner of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s prestigious Bryant-Jordan Scholar/Athlete award. Shortly thereafter, she signed a basketball scholarship with Snead State. She was the valedictorian of her graduating class.
“First off, Kileigh brought a lot of leadership,” said HBHS softball coach Rush Rutledge. “When she was in the circle, our team was confident. Second, she put in hard work in everything she did and did a lot of it on her own. She was a big asset to the team. She’s not a very vocal leader and led by example with her work ethic, but when she did speak, they listened. Kileigh’s just an all-around good kid who also does a great job in the classroom and in the way she handles herself. I’ve got two daughters, and if they grow up to be like Kileigh, I’ll be estatic.”
Rutledge earned Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Lady Eagles to a 30-21 record and the program’s first area championship 19 years. Hokes Bluff finished a game shy of the state tournament.
Joining Blackwell on the first team pitching staff were Sardis junior Kayden Tarvin and Ashville freshman Jayda Burgess. Tarvin went 14-6 with 132 strikeouts in 131 inn-ings with an ERA of 2.56. Burgess finished with 144 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA in 90.2 innings.
Making up the first team infield were Glencoe sophomore Abi Bunt at catcher, Hokes Bluff senior Kaylee Higdon at first base, West End sophomore Josie Bunch at second base, Etowah senior Abbi Martin at shortstop and Southside junior Maddie Griffith at third base.
Bunt batted .494 with 39 hits, 43 runs, 22 RBI, 12 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 16 steals. She struck out only three times and had a slugging percentage of 1.013 and a fielding percentage of .944.
Higdon finished with a .400 batting average, a .472 on base percentage, a .800 slugging percentage and a .953 fielding percentage while producing 42 hits with 12 doubles and 10 home runs, 42 RBI and 39 runs while striking out only eight times. She signed with Coastal Alabama East earlier this year.
Bunch finished with 34 hits, 30 RBI 145 runs and a batting average of .378.
Martin, who signed with Carson-Newman this past November, helped the Lady Blue Devils with 48 hits (including seven doubles and five triples), 40 runs, 30 RBI, 16 steals, a .471 batting average and a 0.938 fielding percentage.
Griffith batted .412 with 42 hits and 17 RBI.
The first team outfield features Southside senior Macey Herren, Hokes Bluff senior Bailee Latronico and Sardis 8th grader Vada Willmore.
Herren ended up with 42 hits with 11 doubles and seven home runs, 48 RBI and a .389 batting average.
Latronico batted .435 with 68 hits with 10 doubles and five triples, 51 runs, 26 RBI and 32 steals, with only nine strikeouts.
Willmore compiled 38 hits with seven doubles and five triples, 26 runs and 23 RBI while batting .362.
Hokes Bluff sophomore Abby Payne and Glencoe sophomore Casey Willett held down the designated hitter and utility spots, respectively. Payne batted .453 along with 64 hits, 53 RBI, 42 runs, eight home runs, 12 doubles and four triples. Willet accumulated 44 hits with 13 doubles and five home runs, 35 RBI, 19 runs and a .494 batting average.
Second team infield
Bailey Houston, freshman, Southside: 41 hits with seven doubles and six triples, 23 RBI, .373 batting average
Evelyn Nowak, eighth grade, Coosa Christian: batted .595 in 42 games
Juli Mostillo, senior, Ashville: 31 hits, 31 runs, 16 RBI, 20 steals, .383 batting average
Emma Samples, Gaston: .459 batting average
Liddy Faulkner, freshman, West End: 31 hits with nine doubles, 22 runs, 16 RBI, .330 batting average
Second team outfield
Jaleigh Devine, junior, Etowah: 38 hits with 12 doubles and four triples, 36 runs, 21 RBI, .319 batting average, 0.975 fielding percentage
Peyton Burrell, sophomore, Southside: 52 hits, 18 RBI, .441 batting average
A.K. Waldrep, sophomore, Sardis: 44 hits with five doubles and eight triples, 36 runs, 19 RBI, .324 batting average
Second team designated hitter
Jayda Lacks, junior, Sardis: 45 hits with 11 doubles, 35 runs, 28 RBI, .346 batting average
Second team utility
Whitney Goodwin, senior, Ashville: 29 hits, 22 RBI, .358 batting average