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Harlan expects breakthrough season

From 6-12 in 2016 to 13-9 last spring, the Harlan Lady Dragons were the 13th Region’s most improved team in 2017. They have every intention to take the next step this year with a veteran squad coming back.

“Our girls are really looking forward to this season,” said David Overbay, who enters his second season as the head coach. “I think after last year they kind of got the mentality back that they are as good as anybody they play. I think a lot of them realize this is it. These seniors and juniors have played together a long time. I think they are ready to take the next step.”

Much of Harlan’s success is connected to senior Ashley Overbay, a four-year starter who is among the region’s best players, both as a hitter and pitcher. Overbay led the Lady Dragons with a .473 average from the third spot in the order.

“She is very important. We need her to get on base. The top of our order did a much better job of that last year,” said the Harlan coach. “We went from 89 runs in 2016 to 162 last year.”

Overbay is even more crucial to the Lady Dragons’ success on the mound where she struck out 218 and walked only 22 with a 2.23 earned run average in 147 innings.

“Her mental toughness is a big part of her success. She has been a student of the game since she started playing,” said the Harlan coach of his daughter. “She knows what to throw and when to throw it. She knows when she has to have a strike or out and will do whatever it takes to get one.”

Overbay is hoping improved strength will help the Lady Dragons’ offense.

“Several of the girls spent a lot of time in the weight room, and they are hitting the ball a lot harder,” he said.

Overbay would like to see continued progress in the middle of the lineup for the Lady Dragons to continue improving, which means a pair of seniors, first baseman AnnMarie Bianchi and third baseman Jayda Young, will need to have big seasons. Bianchi his .340 last season while Young hit .373.

“AnneMarie is hitting the ball hard and she gives us a good target at first base with her height,” Overbay said. “Jayda is solid. This is her fourth year as a starter at third. She really handles that corner very well. She amazed me last year with some of the plays she made.”

Second baseman Payton Bennett, a junior who hit .417 last season, and sophomore shortstop Haven Saylor, who hit .372, will fill the top two spots in the Harlan lineup where they will be counted on to get on base and score runs.

“Payton is a softball player. She really loves the game and is dedicated to the sport. She has improved a lot,” Overbay said. “Haven had a great season last year in the outfield. She made some plays and did a nice job in the leadoff spot.”

Overbay says catcher Kaytlin Cornett, a junior who hit .380 last season, is perhaps the most improved player on the roster.

“She really worked hard in the offseason to improve her arm and it’s a lot stronger,” he said. “She is throwing the ball a lot better. I’m proud of the work she put in. It will help us a lot in throwing out runners.”

Savanna Smith, a junior, is back to anchor the outfield in center after hitting .325 last season.

“She gives you 100 percent on every play,” Overbay said. “She is a hustler.”

There are several candidates to fill the corner outfield spots, including senior Katelyn Burkhart and sophomore Kellie Bennett in left field.

“Katelyn missed her sophomore year with a shoulder injury and sat out last year. She can play several positions, including shortstop. Kellie is the same way and can play the infield or outfield,” Overbay said.

Mikalyn Foutch, a junior, and Hannah Jones, a sophomore, are expected to share time in right field. Angel Wynn, a freshman, will provide depth in the infield. Lauren Nunez, a sophomore, is expected to earn playing time at designated hitter.

The Lady Dragons’ goals this season include winning the 13th Region All “A” Classic and the 52nd District Tournament. Harlan was competitive in both last year but couldn’t get past Middlesboro in the All “A” and also lost to the Lady Jackets in the first round of the district tourney.

“It was a play here or a hit there. We were just five or six plays away from a 20-win season,” Overbay said. “I don’t think that’s unrealistic. We reached some of the goals we set last year and missed on some. We have the same mindset this year, winning an All “A” championship and a district championship. I don’t think those are far-fetched goals with this group.”

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Harlan roster

Sr. Jayda Young 1

Sr. Ashley Overbay 9

Sr. AnnMarie Bianchi 24

Sr. Katelyn Burkhart 31

Jr. Savanna Smith 2

Jr. Payton Bennett 4

Jr. Whitney Couch 7

Jr. Kaytlin Cornett 11

Jr. Mikalyn Foutch 20

So. Kellie Bennett 3

So. Kailey Cornett 5

So. Lauren Nunez 10

So. Haven Saylor 12

So. Hannah Jones 13

Fr. Makayla Sizemore 6

Fr. Emma Jones 8

Fr. Angel Wynn 15

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Harlan schedule

March 19 at Red Bird (All “A” Classic)

March 23 Barbourville

March 29 at Letcher Central

March 30 at Jackson County

April 2 at Bell County

April 3 Leslie County

April 5 Clay County

April 6 at Lynn Camp

April 7 at Hazard

April 7 vs Central, Va.

April 10 at Knox Central

April 12 at Harlan County

April 13 Middlesboro

April 17 Pineville

April 23 at Barbourville

April 24 Whitley County

April 30 Knox Central

May 3 at Middlesboro

May 4 Shelby Valley

May 7 Hazard

May 8 at South Laurel

May 10 Harlan County

May 11 Lynn Camp

May 14 Bell County

May 15 at Leslie County

May 17 Letcher Central

May 18 at Clay County

May 19 at Paintsville

May 19 at East Ridge

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