When Sun Valley softball coach Rob Enloe took over the Spartan program four years ago, he knew it might take a while to get his team where he wanted.
During his first season as the Spartans’ coach (2011), they went 3-12 and finished next to last in the conference. It was an uphill climb from there, but Enloe knew that within a few seasons he’d have the program back on track.
And he’s done just that. In his second year the Spartans improved to 7-12 and last season they earned their first winning record under Enloe with a 12-10 finish. This season, they sit atop the Southern Carolinas conference with a 13-2 overall record and are 5-1 in conference play, currently on a six-game winning streak.
It’s not hard to see why. Along with Enloe’s direction, the Spartans are loaded with capable talent, a team batting average of .470 with their top six hitters all hitting over .510.
Enloe said when junior centerfielder Bailey DeHart (.511 BA, 18 RBIs, four triples, three doubles) hit a home run so far it cleared the second fence at Mallard Creek by 15 feet in the Spartans’ scrimmage game to kickoff the season, he knew that this team could be something special.
“She came straight from a cheerleading competition and ripped that one on her second at bat all season,” Enloe said. “Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors – everyone knows their role and is contributing. We’ve got girls that can step up at every position and that’s been the difference maker. They’re learning their roles and they’re relishing in those roles.”
The Spartans started off their 2014 schedule in rare form, winning six of their first seven non-conference games and averaging 14 runs per game – including a 20-1 demolishing of Central Academy. When they beat Anson, 2-1, in their first conference game on March 21, as freshman shortstop Courtney Dean (.529 BA, 22 RBIs) hit a two-run homer for the winning margin, the Spartans started realizing that this could be their year.
“To be honest, we were kind of cocky by the time conference play started,” said junior third baseman Hannah Adamczyk, who transferred in from Hickory Grove, where she earned all-Metrolina Athletic Conference honors. “We had it in our heads that we were good and sometimes that can get you into trouble.”
Adamczyk was right. After show-stopping non-conference performances, in their second conference game of the season, the Spartans fell, 2-0, to reigning league champion Cuthbertson.
“We lost to Cuthbertson and I thought, ‘Great, here we go,’” Adamczyk said. “We knew we couldn’t get a big head anymore.”
Behind Adamczyk’s leadership and talent – the UNC Wilmington commit is batting a team-high .590 with 10 RBIs, five doubles and two home runs in 11 games this season – the Spartans regained focus and proceeded to take down Weddington, 8-5, just two days after their disappointing loss. Since, they’ve beaten Marvin Ridge (4-3) and Piedmont (3-1) in key wins that proved the Spartans wouldn’t be derailed that easily.
“When we played Cuthbertson, we felt like we had something to prove to them but we fell short,” said sophomore pitcher Brittany Pickett. “So once we lost to them, people sort of wrote us off. No one expected us to win against Weddington but we did and then (to) beat Marvin Ridge and Piedmont, too, that’s when we started to really gain our confidence again.”
Pickett’s bat has been a big part of the Spartans’ resurgence. Batting .571, she’s racked up 26 RBIs, seven doubles, three triples and a team-high five home runs in her 15 games so far this season. On the mound, the lefty flashes a 1.70 ERA and shares pitching duties with junior Peyton Taylor (1.26 ERA) whose bat is just as hot – she’s knocked in 26 RBIs as well and has a team-high nine doubles so far this season, batting .553.
“We can send girls up to the plate and I’m confident that whatever is thrown their way that they can hit the ball,” Enloe said. “At any given moment, they’ll perform.”
With Adamczyk, Pickett and Taylor joining forces with Dean, DeHart and Abby Faircloth (.537 BA, 13 RBIs) the Spartans aren’t looking to slow down anytime soon despite already having major wins under their belt.
“Beating Weddington, Piedmont and Marvin – it gave us confidence,” Taylor said. “Last year we thought we were good but this year we’re starting to see that we’re really good and have something special. We deserve to win games.”
On April 4, the Spartans vindicated their earlier loss to Cuthbertson with a 9-2 throttling of the Cavs, where Sun Valley scored five runs in the first inning.
Enloe said it’s the leadership of Adamczyk, Pickett and Taylor that’s paying off for the Spartans in a big way and keeping them focused on proving the Spartan name in a conference loaded with some of the best talents in the state.
“They’ve stepped up,” he said. “They’ve stepped up in terms of the way they talk to the other girls on the team and the way they lead. Brittany doesn’t say a whole lot but she goes out and leads by example. If something needs to be said, Hannah or Peyton will point blank tell the girls. That’s big. The girls respect them and follow their
The leading trio will need to continue to step up as the Spartans still face both Weddington (April 10) and Piedmont (May 2) again before the playoffs begin – something that’s been in the back of their minds all season.
“We’ve got to stay focused on taking it one game at a time and not getting too ahead of ourselves,” Adamczyk said. “We’ve got to focus on playing our game – getting ahead quick, holding them on defense. That’s been our whole thing. When we get ahead in the first or second inning, we can usually hold on to it.
“I think we can make a good run at states. We’re definitely one of the best teams out there.”
Fortunately for Enloe, regardless of the way this season wraps up he has Adamczyk, Taylor and Pickett all returning next season along with all but two of his current roster.
“We’ve got girls that know the game,” Enloe said. “Brittany, Peyton, Hannah – they play softball year round. They’re committed to it. That’s making all the difference and will continue to make a difference for us.”
But right now, the Spartans have their eye on a conference title, and beyond.
“It’s fun to be this good,” Adamczyk said. “We know what we’re capable of. In this conference, there are no easy games. Everyone is good and we’re ready to keep showing what we can do.”