by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley softball team had one of its best seasons in program history in 2020 when it finished 25-5 and made it to the Class 4 state quarterfinals.
In that game, Grain Valley fell to Platte County 3-1, ending a tremendous season.
After losing just three seniors to graduation from the 2020, the Eagles are reloading for another deep playoff run as the team eyes a state championship in 2021.
That effort will be led by the dynamic pitching duo of Hailey Hemme and Avery Huffman. Last season, Hemme was 12-2 with a 1.19 earned-run average, a .894 walks-and-hits per inning pitched and tallied 141 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings.
Huffman was just as good. She was 10-3 with a 1.72 ERA and had 123 strikeouts.
“If I am off one game, I know Avery can come in and pitch an amazing game,” Hemme said. “When she is off, I am there to back her up. We can pitch against anyone in the state and dominate.”
Added Huffman: “Haley and I compliment each other very well.”
Both players were named to the Class 4 all-state team in 2020, and are a solid one-two punch that could lead the Eagles to the state final four.
Typically, teams would have just one ace that pitches the majority of the games. In head coach Garrett Ogle’s case, he has two girls that can step into the circle and dominate.
“It’s a good luxury to have,” Ogle said. “You can allow them to rest and pitch every other game. That will help keep their arms strong and help prevent overuse.”
Aiding that pitching duo will be a solid lineup that features a lot of speed, Ogle said. The other returning starters are Ella Clyman, Emma Ogle, Brileigh Sims, Cameryn Bown and Lauren Parker.
Some of the top hitters, including Huffman, who .330 last year with one home run, 21 runs-batted in and scored 22 runs and posted a 1.021 on-base-plus slugging percentage. Sims hit .440 with six home runs, 42 RBIs and a 1.237 OPS in 2021.
“We have a lot of speed and that will help runners move from base to base,” Ogle said. “In my three years here, I have seen two home runs hit on our field. We have one deepest field in our area. We have girls who can put it over and can go gap to gap all day long.”
And with seven players returning to the field, the defense should be as solid as it was last season.
“Our defense was amazing last year,” Hemme said. “I could count on them to make every play. I think the defense will be equal to what it was last year.”
With no big weaknesses and the majority of the players from the strong 2020 team returning, the Eagles are reloading for a big season.
“We are coming back for a championship for sure,” Huffman said. “We have all the competitors for it. It’s going to be really easy to rebuild.”