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Rebels stay motivated to earn softball ‘ring’

  • Carmen Pinckney/Special to Jasper County Sun Times THA coach Bob Layman. Carmen Pinckney/Special to Jasper County Sun Times THA coach Bob Layman.

Thomas Heyward’s had great softball success during Hannah Cannon’s time on the varsity, including 102 wins heading into this season, but there’s one thing she still craves.

“Finally earning that ring,” Cannon said.

Cannon, a senior, has been a varsity performer since 2013 when she hit .321 as an eighth-grader. The Rebels have appeared in the SCISA Class AA state-championship series each of the last three seasons, but they’ve haven’t been able to claim a championship.

Cannon, a catcher who signed to play at Charleston Southern University, said Thomas Heyward is fueled by the recent championship losses.

“That really motivates the team,” Cannon said.

Thomas Heyward began its quest for a championship by winning seven of its first 13 games, including a 12-0 win in five innings over Aiken High School, a SCHSL Class AAAA school.

Cannon said the public schools will be some of the best competition the team faces all year and the games (THA also lost to Class AAAAA Blythewood) will prepare THA for the SCISA playoffs.

“Playing those teams helps mold us to compete hard,” said Cannon, who began the season hitting .395.

Pitcher Cheyenee Strong said she gained confidence against Aiken, when she struck out 11 and did not allow a hit.

As the ace of the staff, Strong realizes the team follows her lead. After a pep talk from assistant coach Ashlie Layman, Strong made a point to take control in the win.

“That game I went out there with a totally different attitude,” said Strong, who began the season 5-5 with a 1.81 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched. “I told myself, ‘I got that this.’ ”

Strong, a junior, is in her third season on the varsity. Last season she made three starts at pitcher behind ace Selice Daley.

Strong said because she’s now the No. 1 pitcher, she better appreciates how Daley, who plays for University of South Carolina Upstate, handled her responsibilities.

“Looking back on it now, I see how important that role was to her, how it’s your show,” Strong said. “It’s hard, it’s a lot of work. I give her props for everything she did.”

Strong mixes a riseball with a changeup. She likes to change speeds throughout an at-bat, making sure to keep her motion fast to deceive the batter.

Cannon’s been impressed with Strong’s performances.

“She brings a lot of speed, she’s very quick,” Cannon said.

Said THA coach Bob Layman: “The girls have rallied behind her and she’s pitched well.”

After admittedly taking a few starts to settle in, Strong said she’s ready to be an ace.

“I feel like I am going to pull it off,” she said.

Strong (.312 BA, 10 runs) and Cannon are part of a solid offense that in the early going has been paced by Ivy Bryan (.515 BA, .600 OBP, 12 runs, 23 RBI), who Bob Layman said is playing with a lot of confidence.

Twice a week Cannon works on her hitting and catching with the Charleston Southern coaching staff. She said she has a more open stance that has helped her drive the ball.

“I’m more comfortable seeing the ball,” she said.

Thomas Heyward lost its home opener last Thursday, 6-1 to May River. The Rebels scored on a Alayna DeLong single. Cannon was 2 for 3. Strong struck out 10 and allowed two earned runs in the loss. The team also went 1-2 last weekend at SCISA’s preseason tournament.

The Rebels have three seniors, six juniors and five underclassmen. DeLong, Cannon, Bryan and Strong are the only returning players who had at least 90 plate appearances last season, but Cannon said the expectations are to win a state title.

“This year is no different than any other year,” she said.

Cannon, who also plays travel ball, said she’s proud to represent Thomas Heyward. The team won the state title in 2011 and since 2010 the Rebels have been in the state championship series six times.

She said it’s important to continue the run of excellence.

“It’s good knowing that teams look at Thomas Heyward knowing, ‘We really have to play hard,’ ” Cannon said. “That’s my job as one of the leaders. I want to teach the younger players what we do, which is work hard and live softball.”

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