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Four top-level county high school softball players will continue their careers next season at Southeastern Community College.
The four—South Brunswick’s Brittany Spivey and West’s Courtney Clewis, Emily Gore, Stacy Jackson—signed letters of intent May 6 to play for coach Gary Sykes’ Rams, an NJCAA Division I program entering its second season next year.
“I think it’s going to be a great fit for all them,” West coach Joe Noble said about the three Lady Trojans who signed. Noble has a professional acquaintance with Sykes. “They’re all excellent players. Those three are really going to help the program.”
A new level of softball may mean new positions for these players, but Noble thinks they will adjust.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Noble said. “Emily’s playing shortstop a little bit in summer ball. She’s played outfield for us. Courtney has played second base as well as outfield. Stacy’s played a little bit of every position during travel ball. The adjustment will be easy, I think.”
“They’re all versatile athletes,” West assistant Jeff Carter said. “They can play anywhere. And they have the ability to do it. We just used them where we needed them.”
Noble said what sets Clewis, Gore and Jackson apart from other players is the length of time they have played together.
“They know each other,” he said. “They’re super friends. They trust and rely on each other to do their job and play their position. And they know that that’s going to happen (in making a play). I think that’s the biggest thing, how close-knit they are.”
Carter has coached Jackson and Gore in the Dixie League, and they were part of a team that won a state title.
“Emily and Stacy, I have coached since they were 9,” he said. “Courtney I have only coached since she was in high school. But they are all good kids, and that will carry them through life.
“I told the group of (six) seniors we have now when they were 11, ‘Every one of you has the potential to play in college.’ They were that good that young.”
Carter said Jackson’s and Gore’s practice habits have helped make them excellent players.
“They work harder than anybody else on this team,” he said. “They’re always in the (batting) cage, whether we’re here or not, hitting. That is their dedication to the game, to get better.
“Courtney is the same way. She’s always wanting to do extra (work) after practice to get better, to get ready. And that (dedication) is something you don’t teach.
“The work ethic for all of them got them (to SCC).”
Spivey is a catcher for the Cougars, but Sykes said she probably will play second base for the Rams. She has played second base most of her career.
“I’m used to playing second base,” she said. “It’s not really a difficult position to play.”
Spivey plans to study sports medicine or physical education. She intends to finish college at either East Carolina University or University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Sykes said he was impressed by Spivey’s ability and her attitude.
“She is such a hustler,” he said, “an all-around ballplayer. She thinks she’s a coach on the field. She does a great job.
“She knows what’s going on. She knows where the play needs to be. And she’s a good batter.”
Jackson has the same kind of knowledge about the game, Sykes said.
“Jackson is a great infielder,” Sykes said. “She’s another coach on the field. She’s played all these years. She’s the type of kid that’s easy to coach because she knows exactly what’s going on on the field. She can hit the long ball at anytime.”
Jackson is now a second baseman, but she may be switched to third for the Rams, Sykes said.
Jackson said the chance to continue to play softball with two of her high school teammates “will be a great experience.”
She intends to study criminal justice and hopes to complete her studies at a college that offers forensic science.
Gore, a third baseman, said she had a chance to go to UNC Charlotte, “but I turned that down because the softball team was full.” Sykes then offered Gore a chance to play at Southeastern, and Gore accepted.
Gore will probably be a utility player for the Rams, Sykes said, so that he can make full use of her athletic abilities.
“I am loaded with infielders right now,” Sykes said. “She’ll be playing different places on the infield as I need her, even first base. She’ll play third, short, second. She’ll play all the positions at different times. And she’s a great hitter. She’s got power, too.”
Gore played shortstop in the fall for Carter’s travel team.
“He said whoever is the best (at third), he’ll put there,” Gore said. “But I’ll play any position. Anywhere he puts me, I should be fine.”
Gore intends to be an elementary school teacher, and she hopes to complete college at UNC Wilmington or UNC Charlotte.
Clewis is the one recruit who will continue to play her high school position, right field, for the Rams.
“She has a powerful arm,” Sykes said. “She’s a good hitter. She knows what to do as far as playing the outfield. She knows where the plays are at, what to do with the ball. And I have seen her throw line drives from right field to third base.”
Besides getting the chance to play softball, Southeastern offers Clewis the chance to make the classroom transition from high school to a four-year college. She considered enrolling at BCC, but it has no softball team. She intends to study elementary education.
After finishing at Southeastern, Clewis might play softball Mount Olive, she said. But if she decides not to play softball, she knows where she wants to finish her college education.
“My heart has always been set on UNC Greensboro or Appalachian State,” she said. “Those two schools have a really good education program.”
Sykes, also an assistant coach with the South Columbus High School softball team, started coaching softball about 10 years ago. He has coached Dixie and middle school softball.
“That’s where I have an advantage (in recruiting),” he said, “because I get to see a lot of these girls before they become seniors.”
Sykes credits South coach Tony Spivey and West’s Noble for the way they have coached their players.
“He’s a fundamentals coach,” Sykes said about Noble. “He has a great personality. He knows how to work with the girls. I think all the girls like him.”
Sykes said he was impressed with the way Tony Spivey coached daughter Brittany.
“Watching him coach during games,” Sykes said, “he does not show any partiality toward his daughter. And to me, he’s probably got one of the best programs right now in the (Waccamaw) conference.”
SCC is completing its first full year in Region X.
“What we’re trying to do right now is build a program,” Sykes said. “And with these girls we got coming in, that’s going to (help) build our program.
“Last year (recruiting), mostly, we had Columbus County people. Now we have expanded to Brunswick County and Robeson. It’s getting bigger and better.”
SCC is a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I team—out of necessity. That means having to play traditionally strong Spartanburg Methodist, the regional champions this season.
“They’re just unreal,” Sykes said. “They only lost, like, two games this year. We have some good competition in our region.”
But it may be at a level too strong for a new program such as the Rams. Region X covers the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia.
“We would really like to go to Division II,” Sykes said, “but we don’t have any Division II teams to play.” These four players and all the other new players will have to get used to a longer schedule. High school teams, if successful, may play nearly 30 games in a season. Next season the Rams will play about 60 games, Sykes said.
Sykes has sought the advice of other junior college softball coaches, including coaches at Pitt Community College and SMCC, about how to build a program.
“All the coaches in our region, anytime I ask them a question, they give me advice on what to do. The Spartanburg coach is so nice about helping me.”
Some of that advice was about how to recruit players a year ahead of time to fill positions.
“And also how to run my program, as far as practices. What I need to do for study halls and tutoring.”
But Sykes is eager to meet the challenge.
“I just love girls’ softball,” he said.