1. South Laurel Lady Cardinals (29-8)
What’s the scoop: The Lady Cardinals turned in one of their better seasons and captured their first 13th Region championship dating back to 2006 behind the play of seniors Amber Hyde, Megan Smith, Laura Williams, Chelsea Wemes and Cassandra Johnson. Of course, they also received a solid effort from the mound and at the plate by players such as Hagan Burns and Brittany Vanderventer, too. This team had a solid year and by season’s end, was hands down the best team.
2014 ranking: South Laurel still returns a lot of talent, but the Lady Cardinals could be young and inexperienced at some positions. Despite that, I’m giving the defending 13th Region champions a No. 2 ranking heading into next season.
2. North Laurel Lady Jaguars (23-13-1)
What’s the scoop: At the beginning of the season, I thought North Laurel would win the 13th Region championship for the seventh year in a row — well, I was wrong. The Lady Jaguars could never seem to get things clicking the way they did in 2012 and that’s surprising because they only lost one senior (Kristin Fields) from the 2012 squad. With that said, the Lady Jaguars were very talented, but just couldn’t get over the hump.
2014 ranking: Call me crazy, but I believe the Lady Jaguars will enter the season as the team to beat next season. Mikayla Vires will be the go-to pitcher in the circle for North Laurel while talented players such as Kailin Yantz and McKenzie Mills return to the mix. The Lady Jaguars will be young, though. North Laurel didn’t have a single junior on this year’s roster, and only five sophomores.
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3. Corbin Lady Redhounds (21-14)
What’s the scoop: Keep an eye on Corbin. The Lady Redhounds will return one of the best players in the region in Hannah Hart and will contend for the 13th Region championship. Heck, they might even win it, but to do so, they must improve defensively. If they do that, they’ll be better than my No. 3 pre-season ranking.
4. Clay County Lady Tigers (24-7)
What’s the scoop: The Lady Tigers only lose one senior from this past season’s team that won 24 games, second most in the 13th Region. Plus, pitcher Lesley Roberts returns to the mix from the injury and Clay County could very well be another team that could make a run at the region crown. But right now, I’m ranking them at the No. 4 spot for 2014.
5. Knox Central Lady Panthers (13-16)
What’s the scoop: The Lady Panthers turned in an impressive season, but fell short against Clay County in the 13th Region Tournament. Will they be my No. 5 ranked team coming into next season? No, losing pitcher Allison Swafford is going to be tough. The No. 5 ranking will go to Middlesboro, who was much-improved this past season.
1. North Laurel Jaguars (24-12-1)
What’s the scoop: No team was hotter than the Jaguars, who surprised many by winning the 13th Region championship this past season. North Laurel is a young and talented team and took many by surprise thanks to their clutch pitching and play of senior Marcus Carson.
2014 ranking: The Jaguars are going to be young and talented. Their pitching staff might be the best in the 13th Region, which is good enough for me to give them a No. 2 ranking.
2. Harlan County Black Bears (28-10)
What’s the scoop: The Black Bears had the talent to win their first-ever 13th Region championship, but just fell short in the end to North Laurel.
2014 ranking: Harlan County loses five seniors, but still figure to be in the mix at No. 3 in 2014.
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3. South Laurel Cardinals (25-7)
What’s the scoop: South Laurel will once again enter the season as the team to beat in the 13th Region and returns a lot of talent.
4. Middlesboro Yellow Jackets (22-12)
What’s the scoop: Middlesboro will enter as my No. 4 ranked team in 2014.
5. Corbin Redhounds (19-18)
What’s the scoop: Corbin fell 10-0 in regional play and I’m going with Knox Central at the No. 5 spot entering next season.