When the Sun Valley softball team started the 2014 season, sophomore pitcher Brittany Pickett said her team was just focused being better than the year before, when it went 14-10 and made the second round of the 3A state playoffs.
At the time, the Spartans were two years removed from 4-18 in coach Rob Enloe’s first season, in 2011.
Enloe and the Spartans put together an impressive run, starting with 11 straight wins in the regular season before going on to to win the Southern Carolinas conference regular-season title and the 3A state championship with a 2-0 sweep of Pikeville Charles B. Aycock High.
Pickett, the 3A state championship most valuable player, led the Spartans (26-5), going 16-5 on the mound with 144 strikeouts while hitting .542 and 10 home runs.
Pickett’s dream month didn’t stop with the state title June 6; she also got an offer from North Carolina and made a verbal commitment the same month.
“Winning a state championship is a special accomplishment and a special feeling, and it doesn’t happen to everyone,” Pickett said. “Just saying you are a state champion feels good. Then to commit to Carolina later in June was almost a surreal feeling.”
Enloe was quick to remind his players that the 2014 title means nothing this season.
“We know the expectations for this year and we know we won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year as defending state championships,” said Enloe, now in his fifth season as the Spartans’ head coach. “I’ve reminded these girls all year that after Feb. 16 (first day of practice), we are last year’s champions, and so that doesn’t mean anything for this year’s team.”
The Spartans are off to a 10-1 start (3-1 in conference play through April 13).
Sun Valley has outscored opponents 116-16 in its first 11 games.
Pickett has batted .455 with six home runs and 21 RBIs while going 6-1 on the mound with 48 strikeouts in 45 innings, pitching six complete games in seven starts.
“Brittany is having another great year, and she has done everything we have asked of her on the mound and at the plate,” said Enloe, noting Pickett has moved from cleanup to the leadoff spot in the batting order. “We feel like everybody on this team is stepping into their roles.”
Sun Valley’s batting order is loaded; the Spartans are hitting .475 as a team.
While Sun Valley is intent on defending its state title, the Spartans know even winning the conference won’t be easy. The league includes state powers Piedmont (No. 1 in the state according to MaxPreps.com) and Marvin Ridge (No. 12).
“We know our conference and the entire 3A classification is brutal,” Enloe said. “But we also feel like it gives us the experience and mental toughness to be prepared to be at our best every night.”
While Sun Valley’s combination of experience and talent this season has them confident, the team hasn’t forgotten its past.
“I remember watching Sun Valley my eighth-grade year, and they were really struggling (4-18 that year),” said Pickett, who throws a 65 mph fastball, a rising ball, a changeup and a screwball.
“In a matter of three years, we were able turn it around and win a state championship. We came in and helped change this program, and we don’t want to stop now.”
The players received the 2014 state championship rings in November at halftime of a Sun Valley football game.
“We know if we win we get even bigger rings this year,” Pickett said. “Just having a ring with your name engraved on it is something special. I think we all want to get another one. Why not have two championship rings?”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.