Lady Eagle softball

Rhea County's 2019 softball team is pictured above after last weekend's Soddy-Daisy play day.

When Rhea County softball takes the field for the regular season opener this spring, there will be a new—yet still familiar—face standing at the third base line when the Lady Eagles step up to bat.

Randy Mathis, a special education teacher and head softball coach at Spring City Middle School [SCMS] officially became the new high school coach in June, replacing Leah Price.

Price stepped down from her position in May after serving as the head coach since 2014. Previous to that, the former Lady Eagle standout was an assistant coach during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. During her stint as head coach, she led Rhea to a district championship in 2015 and a pair of district runner-up finishes (2014,2016). Most recently, she guided the squad to a 17-17 overall record and third place ranking in the district 6-AAA standings. She was named an assistant coach for Tennessee Wesleyan University’s Lady Bulldog softball team in early August.

Mathis is also a RCHC alum and has coached the Lady Bulldogs since 2013. He brings 11 years of travel ball coaching experience into this new role in Evensville.

“I just love coaching and I love the game. I enjoy working with the girls, the competitiveness and the fast pace of the game itself,” he said after accepting the position over the summer.  “Since I started with travel ball, I’ve always wanted to coach at the highest level possible. I bleed green and gold so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity.”  

For the administration, the hire was a relatively easy decision and simply made sense to bring in someone already with close ties to softball and Rhea County athletics. In addition to coaching at SCMS, his daughter McKinley is a sophomore pitcher for the Lady Eagles.

During the official new coach introduction, RHCS Athletic Director Jeremy Fitzgerald said he was thrilled to have Mathis taking over the reins of the program and is looking forward to his leadership in Evensville.

“I trust Randy Mathis. Coach (Jerry) Levengood and coach (Jesse) Messimer and I felt really comfortable with him. He’s a guy that goes about his business and is in it for the right reasons,” Fitzgerald said. “We believe the girls will enjoy playing for him and he’s got a great base of girls to work with and already involved with the middle school which was a plus for us,” he added.

Mathis hit the ground running and has been hard at work through the summer and fall to get the Lady Eagles ready for the 2019 campaign.

“The transition has been good so far. The girls are starting to see the results of their winter workouts and starting to come together as a team.  Fundraising and field improvements have been slow and exhausting, but everything is coming together nicely,” he said last week.

The first-year RC head coach inherits a young but very talented squad that only lost three seniors from the 2018 roster. This year’s team five seniors including Kaci Tilley, Kaylee Chattin, Gracie Smith, Erica Espinoza and Jade Claridy.

A junior group of three is led by returners Keeley Hickman and Brooke Tidwell who are joined by Makenle Campbell. Hickman--a 2018 All-District selection--has proven to be a quality asset both defensively and with her bat.

After a very productive freshman season, a talented group of sophomores are set to make an even bigger splash this year. Leading the way for the class of 2020 is McKinley Mathis (pitcher); Hallie DeArman (catcher); Ellie Hickman (outfielder); Macy Welch (third base); Madalynn Ray (pitcher); and Halleigh Phelps (outfielder).

“This year’s sophomores are a solid group and got even better with two transfers coming in this year in Madison McDonald (Georgia) and Mya Hall (Knox-Karns).  The ones from last year have gotten stronger and I expect to see great things from them,” coach Mathis said.

Out of that 2020 group was three first-team all-district Players in Macy Welch, McKinley “Mac” Mathis and Ellie Hickman. Hickman was also selected District 6-AAA Outfielder of the year.  All three proved last spring they could make things happen defensively and at the plate.

Pitching is key at the prep level but the Lady Eagles are in pretty good shape in that department this spring.

With several returners as well as a transfer that will see time in the circle, Rhea County has quality options. While “Mac” shined last year, she’ll have plenty of help around her to allow her to rest when needed.

“We are blessed with talent in the circle this year.  Senior Gracie Smith is back and seems to be ready to shine for us. Sophomores Madalynn “Mal” Ray is always one you can rely on to get it done and newcomer Madison McDonald will help us in the circle as well.  They all seem to have a little different style and that’s good for us to be able to utilize each one’s strength.  Freshman Michaela Taylor will also be utilized and can help in the rotation, “ Mathis said.

Rhea County will again have their hands full with the always-talented Cookeville Lady Cavs along with Warren’s Lady Pioneers who are consistently at the top of the league.  However, Mathis is confident his squad can go toe-to-toe with the District 6-AAA heavyweights.

“Those two teams are always powerhouses. I think this group we have this year can shock them if they play their game and minimize errors.  We have worked a lot and I’ve challenged the girls to make an out on every play. We are still fairly young in key positions but talented in many ways,” the Lady Eagle coach said.

Assisting Mathis this season on the coaching staff will be Whitney Thompson who will assume duties at first base, catching and the outfield while Joe Thompson takes over with infielders/hitting and stat keeping.

Rhea County saw its first taste of live action over the weekend in Soddy Daisy’s play day defeating Sequatchie 5-1 and Hendersonville 7-0 . Other preseason action includes a home scrimmage with Sweetwater on March 7 (6 p.m.) and play day at Knox-Karns on March 9.

Rhea travels to Silverdale on March 12 for the regular season opener at 6 p.m. Stone Memorial will visit the Lady Eagles in the home opener on March 19 beginning at 6 p.m.