Richardson’s first recruiting class speaks volumes

Published 11:34 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

HARROGATE, Tenn. — Winning is the name of the game, but it isn’t the topic of conversation.

At least not for Ritchie Richardson and his Lincoln Memorial University softball coaching staff.

Even before coming back to his alma mater in 2017, the Hall of Fame coach kept his recruiting and coaching tactics simple, where building trust comes first and his track record of 900-plus wins speaks for itself.

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That formula didn’t alter when he began attracting top prospects to Harrogate for his first recruiting class.

“It certainly helps to have a résumé that people look at and maybe get the feeling, ‘Hey, they obviously know what they’re doing there,’” Richardson said. “We are player coaches. Recruiting, to me, is no more than developing a connection with an athlete and parents. That’s what we try to do.

“You can have the best things to show people in the world — facilities, dorms and all of that — it can be fantastic, but if you don’t make a connection with the kid and their parents, I don’t think it really works.”

It’s a wavelength that 10 girls — though one or two more could be added — connected onto and wanted to join in hopes of taking the seasoned coach’s second year at LMU to new heights.

Of the double-digit class, five girls highlight the Lady Railsplitter haul in which each player holds some of their own high school single-season and career records.

McKenzie Henry, a William Blount High School graduate, headlines the signees. The All-State, All-District Most Valuable Player led the Lady Governors to a 35-8 record and top-four finish in the state tournament in her senior campaign, which was the Louisville, Tennessee, school’s first state appearance since 2001.

Henry not only brings her standout offensive skill set — .538 batting average behind 15 home runs and 62 RBI — to Harrogate, but her defensive presence after gunning down base runners and calling pitches in her farewell season. She will hold down the duties behind the plate, aiming to direct the Railsplitter pitching staff, one that had a strong start to last season before cooling down, to the top of the South Atlantic Conference.

Two pitchers, Faith Howe from Beaverton, Michigan, and Bailey Griffith from Charlotte, Tennessee, come in with high expectations to complement returning righty Justice Smith. Howe, a Beaverton High School graduate, was named a Max Preps All-American, while also being tabbed her school and district MVP and a Michigan All-State selectee behind her 26-4 record, 0.51 ERA and 301 strikeouts in 180 innings pitched.

Griffith, a Creek Wood High School graduate who can also play outfield, led her squad to a 38-16 record and state tournament appearance last season. Her 22-9 record, 1.75 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 167 innings pitched plus a .390-batting average and 49 runs scored placed her on her All-District and All-State teams.

Two Knoxville native infielders, Sierra Hucklebee and Kelsie Tuggle, will bring instant help to tighten up the middle infield. Hucklebee, a Gibbs High School graduate, used her .531 batting average, 70 runs, nine home runs and 45 RBI to lead her team to the state tournament behind a 40-10 record last season.

Henry and the fellow All-State and All-District player were Knoxville News Sentinel Softball Player of the Year finalists, losing to Maddie Webber, a The King’s Academy star and Tennessee commit.

Lastly, Tuggle, a Wendy’s High School Heisman and Farragut High School graduate, brings her All-District talents and .471 batting average, 44 runs, eight homers and 38 RBI to town to round out Richardson’s highly-touted class, which features Division I talent.

“These are outstanding players. I think it just speaks of quality,” Richardson said. “We can go after and attract the top players. We have academic offerings, the campus its self that would entice those kinds of players to come here and play. For us, it’s just about building blocks.

“This whole group, especially those five girls, we saw as building blocks for the program. It’s our first recruiting class — these girls in my mind — they are going to play a lot of softball the next four years. Our program, I wouldn’t say it’s going to revolve around them, but they are definitely going to be a big part of the puzzle in taking us to the next level. Maybe more so than they even know.”

The other five girls include Sami West, outfielder, White House, Tenn.; Victoria Mounce, infielder, Dahlonega, Ga.; Kelsey Hoskins, outfielder, Temecula, Calif.; Tori Barnes, infielder, a Volunteer State Community College transfer; and Raven Allender, pitcher, a King University transfer.

Richardson’s first class highlights instant game-changing players to pair with the talent he was given when he stepped back on campus, having graduated in 1984 as a baseball player.

The fresh bunch matches up nicely with returning All-SAC first-team second baseman Ty-Kella Goins, and All-SAC second-teamers, Kelsie Hocutt and Allie Jones, in hopes to elevate last season’s 24-22 record and snap a two-year SAC Tournament drought.

And to get there behind this recruiting class, Richardson plans to stick to the game plan he’s always used.

It hasn’t steered him wrong yet, so why should it change now.

“Our goal is people process product,” Richardson said. “We believe in good people to start with. Besides being great players, these are good kids, good family. These are honor, scholar athletes. They have more awards academically than they do athletically. You have to start with good people then your processes have to be good and the process, of course, is your practice routines and strength programs.

“If you have good people and your process is good then the product on the field will be outstanding. That has always been what we work off of here. We talk about the process more than winning.”