PILOT MOUNTAIN — Randy Marion is justifiably proud of the softball talent that has come out of the area in the past several years.
Marion’s Lady Cardinals won the 1A state championship six times in 13 seasons between 1999 and 2011, and returned to prominence last year in a 23-4 season which saw an East Surry team with five freshmen and no seniors go into the playoffs as MaxPreps’ top-ranked 1A team. The program has a facility upgrade in the works right now, and has already set its sights on a seventh championship banner in 2018.
However, softball success hasn’t been just limited to East Surry. Last spring, North Surry not only took a game from the Lady Cardinals, it upset top-ranked 2A Forbush in its conference tournament and went on to win it. Surry Central has been in the 2A state playoffs the last two seasons and is back to providing players for college teams, not providing easy wins for its opponents.
“I feel like softball is more popular now than it has ever been,” said Marion, who has an 81-26 record in his four seasons as head coach. “It’s going to be back in the Olympics in 2020, and it’s really growing everywhere in the world. And we’re in an area with a lot of softball talent.”
Two of the most prominent examples of Surry County’s softball talent are coming back this week, as former North Surry star Molly Martin and ex-Lady Cardinal superstar Emily Cummings are slated to be the star instructors at the Elite Softball Academy. ESA is a two-session softball instructional camp, co-hosted by Surry Community College and East Surry coaches, that is being held at East Surry’s softball facility on each of the next two Saturdays, July 15 and 22. It is open to all rising first- through eighth-graders from anywhere in the region.
Martin was one of the top athletes in recent North Surry history during her four years with the Lady Hounds, in which she was three-time All-Conference and twice All-State in softball, and also started on a volleyball team that won a state title. After graduation, she signed with NC State for softball, and overcame an injury as a sophomore to earn a part-time starting role on the Wolfpack as a junior, and was a full-time starter as a senior. She earned Academic All-Conference honors during her senior season.
Cummings was a four-time All-Conference player and three-time All-State selection for East Surry between 2013 and 2016. She owns most of the school’s hitting records, and batted .491 for her career. However, she was regarded as more of a college prospect as a pitcher, and just completed her freshman season for Florida Southwestern College, a Division I junior college in Fort Myers, Fla. She pitched in 18 games for the Bucs, making eight starts, and posted a 7-2 record with a 2.38 ERA while batting .289 at the dish. She actually took the loss in her first two collegiate appearances, but then won seven straight decisions, including a complete-game 6-1 victory over Seminole State, the No. 7-ranked team in the region, on April 21. At the end of the season, she had actually hit her way into the starting lineup as well, and was FSW’s starting designated hitter in its last six games.
Both players will be at each session of the Academy, and will take questions from any interest campers.
“We’re going to have a 30-minute question-and-answer session at the end of each day,” said Marion. “Those two have a lot of insight into what it takes to be a success at the college level, and this is a chance for anyone who wants to play in college to find out what they need to do in order to get there.
“We’re doing this at East Surry, but I want to stress that it’s open to everyone in the area, not just kids from the East Surry district. I want to see softball continue to grow in the area and for all of our teams to develop their talent and be strong teams.”
Marion said that he would like to have additional Elite Softball Academy sessions in the fall and spring months, up to six times a year, and would also like to see a travel program for Surry County players. Currently, local players seeking travel ball opportunities have to leave the area in order to play on a team.
The two one-day sessions will run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day. Nathan Bowman, an assistant softball coach at SCC, is the camp director. Coaches doing the instruction include SCC head coach Blaine Bullington, Marion, Bowman, Richard Layne, a professional hitting instructor and ESHS assistant coach; and Mark Mauldin, a travel ball coach and ESHS assistant.
Campers are encouraged to attend both sessions, but it is not mandatory. One session is $30 or you can sign up for both at a cost of $50. Each camper will receive a t-shirt.
Contact Marion, email@example.com or 336-215-0577 with any questions.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.