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Independence sophomore shortstop Kayla Saunders snags a line drive in a recent game. Saunders is one of several young players contributing to the Patriots’ 22-4 season, which continues Wednesday when they take on No. 1 Chapmanville in the state tournament in Vienna.

A good team is more than just its star players.

Independence, which plays in the state tournament Wednesday morning for the first time since 1999, has contributors up and down the lineup, not to mention on the bench.

Yes, the Patriots’ stellar senior trio of center fielder Sheena McKinney, catcher Jacinda Ward and first baseman Scarlet Lawson have helped give the 22-4 Patriots many of their victories this season.

And sophomore Kelsey Whitt has certainly made her mark, getting a school record 16 victories against just three losses.

But coach Tom Poe will readily tell you, “I’ve got six other good sophomores.”

Two of them, second baseman Kayla Epling and shortstop Kayla Saunders, give the Patriots one of the finest double-play combinations around.

The duo has started nearly every game the last two seasons.

“Since their first game as ninth graders, they’ve earned the right to be there,” Poe said. “They play solid defense. They know where to make the plays.”

Epling (.364) anticipates off the bat well, and is not afraid to get down and block the ball in either direction.

Saunders (.414) covers well to either side, but shines going deep into the hole behind third base. She makes all the cutoffs.

“Epling is just very aggressive. She’s not afraid of the ground,” Poe said. “Saunders is an experienced ball player to be very young.”

There are sophomores on either side of McKinney in the outfield. Beth Huffman plays in left while Whitney Hill patrols in right.

Poe said they’re very similar.

“They both have strong arms. Hill’s is the strongest on the team,” he said. “They bat both left and right and they slap the ball.”

Last season Hill started in right field and Huffman often batted for her. 

Huffman is currently batting .296 and Hill is hitting at a .247 clip.

Poe expects big things from two other sophomores, outfielder Ashley Gill (.364) and catcher Lani Wynn (.316).

“They don’t get a lot of playing time, but they could step in at any point and we probably wouldn’t miss a beat,” he said. “Lani will step right in and be the starting catcher for the next two years. Ashley, if she works hard, may wind up playing left next year and Huffman can go to center, her natural position.”

Between the seniors and sophomores are two underrated juniors, pitcher-designated hitter Corey Moles and third baseman Summer Adkins.

Moles bats seventh in the order and is hitting 310. Adkins is not a typical No. 9 batter.

“Corey puts the ball in play. She bunts when we need it,” Poe said. “She’s come through in some crucial spots for us.

“For most teams, the No. 9 batter is a weak spot, but Summer is hitting .423. She’s not an easy out.”

Independence will play Chapmanville in the first round of the state tournament in Vienna. 

The Patriots defeated nine-time defending champion Shady Spring 5-3 Thursday to capture the Region 3 title.

Poe said his team worked hard, both last summer and throughout the season, to get to the state tournament.

“People don’t realize how much time and effort the girls put into getting better,” he said. “If they did realize the hours, they would have more respect for girls softball.”

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