By Brian Howard
Pitching was the key component this season on the softball diamond as several high school teams tried to reach the ultimate goal of winning a state crown.
Infact, two schools Union Grove and Luella reached the Elite Eight in Class AAAAA and Class AAAA, respectfully. Luella came within a game of winning the championship, which is why Lady Lions pitcher Brooke Loudermilk was selected the All-Southern Crescent Softball Player of the Year Thursday. Joining Loudermilk was Luella coach Stephen Adkins, who earned All-Southern Crescent Coach of the Year.
“A lot of credit goes to my team,” Adkins said. “They understand what makes us a team. This award really should go to my whole team. Assistant coaches Jason Watson and Sara Austin kept the team unified all season. This is certainly a great honor. I need to thank God, the team and my assistant coaches for giving me this honor.”
Adkins, who is also the Luella boys basketball coach, guided the Lady Lions to a 28-10 record overall and 12-4 in Region 3-AAAA.
The Lady Lions came within a game of winning a state championship. Luella lost two straight to Ringgold to finish second.
Pitchers Terese Gober (Union Grove), Amber Harrell (Henry County), Terri Mesko (Eagle's Landing) and Heather Lowry (Jonesboro) joined Loudermilk on the first team.
Behind the plate, making the All-Southern Crescent Softball team were Nikki Bradford (Henry County), Lynleigh Hurndon (Union Grove) and Kayla Cooper (Eagle's Landing Christian).
Five infielders made first team: Lauren Peters and Lily Skelton (Union Grove), Rachel Campbell (Henry County, Audra Brinkley (Luella) and Rachel Wise (Dutchtown).
Outfielders Tori Goggins (Henry County), Anjah Usher (Luella) and Heather McCarty (Jonesboro) also made the first team.
Loudermilk, who signed to play college softball at UT-Chattanooga, pitched 190 innings, with a 0.295 ERA (eight earned runs). She finished with 379 strikeouts (14 per game) and 12 walks (.44 per game).
“I feel Brooke is the best pitcher in the state, not just region or area,” Adkins said. “Her character is far greater than her stats. She is a total team player and will be an asset to coach (Frank) Reed at UTC.
“Her ability to lead is unbelievable and a great asset to have. Most pitchers with this many strikeouts don't have only 12 base on balls. She got six base on balls in her first two rehab games coming off a shoulder injury.”
Loudermilk pitched a pair of masterpieces in the state championship final, taking a perfect game into the seventh in both contests. She finished the two-game final with 31 strikeouts.
Gober, who signed to play college softball at Florida State, led the Lady Wolverines with four home runs. But it wasn't her bat that carried Union Grove to the state Elite Eight.
It was her arm.
Gober, who transferred in the offseason from Stockbridge High School, went 19-5 with a save and had a 0.23 ERA, while finishing with 313 strikeouts (12.17 a game) in 180 innings.
Harrell went 18-7 for Henry County this season with a 0.48 ERA. The senior pitcher had 198 strikeouts.
Mesko was 22-14 with a 0.57 ERA for Eagle's Landing. The senior pitcher worked 256.1 innings, with 482 strikeouts.
Lowry helped Jonesboro to an 18-5 record and a Region 5-AAAA championship. The senior pitcher, who will attend Virginia Tech on a softball scholarship, finished her high school career with a 71-33 record, and an ERA of 0.67. She also struckout 1,315 batters, believed to be a Clayton County record.
Bradford, a senior catcher, batted .476, with 19 stolen bases and 17 RBIs.
Hurndon, who singed with UT-Chattanooga, was the best defensive catcher in the area, Union Grove coach Brian DeBerry said. She was second on the team in batting (.296) and had a team-high 25 RBIs.
Cooper, allowed two passed balls, and threw out 12 of 14 runners. She had 74 at-bats, with 30 hits, batting .405, with 19 stolen bases.
Eagle's Landing Christian coach Joe Shadowens said this was the first year Cooper had been behind the plate.
Peters, a N.C. State signee, played shortstop for Union Grove and led the team in on-base percentage (.376).
“One of the best defensive middle infielders in the state,” Deberry said.
Peters' teammate, Skelton, also made first-team honors. Skelton, who will play softball at Georgia State, was the clean-up hitter and third baseman before dislocating her ankle, DeBerry said. She batted .289.
Campbell batted .301, with 11 RBIs and only had one error in two years as the Henry County starting first baseman.
Brinkley, who is a sophomore, had a .252 batting average for Luella. The third baseman had three home runs (one in the region tournament), five doubles, two triples, 15 RBIs (led team), 19 walks (led team) and an on-base percentage of .426.
“Audra may be the best sophomore in the state,” Adkins said. “She stepped up big in games with the hit to put us in position to win. She is a very good third baseman with a very strong arm.”
Wise helped Dutchtown to a surprising run during the season. She batted .414 with 24 RBIs, while playing two positions first and catcher.
Goggins, a senior outfielder, batted .312, with 11 RBIs and eight sacrifice bunts.
Usher, a junior center fielder, batted .282, with a home run (game-winner in the Elite Eight), three doubles, 10 RBIs, six walks and a .425 on-base percentage.
“Anjah is a great center fielder with great speed,” Adkins said. “She has extremely quick hands at the plate. She can hit the ball deep or bunt her way on. She batted. 250 in the postseason and led the team in that area.”
Honorable mention went to pitchers Andrea Dean (Eagle's Landing), Krystin Williams (Luella) and Hope Rush (Eagle's Landing Christian). Brandy Keeter (Eagle's Landing) and Kellsie Currin (Jonesboro) were selected as catchers.
Infielders were Lauren Jones (Union Grove), Tiffany Phillips (Eagle's Landing), Cecily Demarco (Henry County), Rachel Irby (Eagle's Landing Christian), Denisha Harrison (Jonesboro) and Shannon Harris (Jonesboro). Alex Adams (Union Grove) and Alishia Waldrop (Luella) were selected as outfielders.
Dean pitched in two games for the Lady Golden Eagles, earning a no decision in both.
Williams played outfielder and pitcher. The junior batted .252 and led the team in doubles with nine. She also finished with a triple, eight RBIs, 10 walks and a .415 on-base percentage.
“Krystin has maybe the quickest hands at the plate in the Atlanta area,” Adkins said. “She also went 8-0 pitching this year, with her biggest win coming against Hardaway in the region championship game. She also has good speed on the base path.”
Rush pitched in 136 innings, giving up 28 runs on 48 hits, while striking out 226 batters. She finished with a 19-4 record. At the plate, Rush had 41 hits, with 13 doubles and seven home runs. She batted .562.
Keeter played in 38 games, getting 11 hits, while scoring once.
Jones is considered one of the best junior first baseman and outfielders in the state, DeBerry said. She hit .261, with 12 RBIs and a home run.
Phillips had 32 hits, two doubles and a triple for Eagle's Landing.
Demarco, a sophomore third baseman, had a .345 batting averaging, with 14 RBIs.
Irby, a shortstop, had 68 at-bats with 23 hits. She finished with a .338 batting average and 10 stolen bases.
Adams, a sophomore outfielder, led the Lady Wolverines with a .300 batting average and 17 sacrifice bunts.
Waldrop, a junior second baseman/outfielder, batted .208 for the Lady Lions. Waldrop had two doubles, eight RBIs, nine walks and a .310 on-base percentage.
“Alishia is a great defensive infielder,” Adkins said. “She was my leadoff hitter and played that role very well. She is another reason why we were a great team this year, because she understands the team concept.”