By Doug Gorman
Last spring, Eagle's Landing Christian Academy head baseball coach Joe Shadowens guided the Chargers to the Class A Final Four.
Jump ahead almost five months, and Shadowens is trying to work the same magic with the ELCA softball team.
With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Lady Chargers are riding a 10-game winning streak, are 8-0 in the Region 5-A standings, two games ahead of second-place Mt. Zion of Carroll County, and gearing up for a run at the Class A state title.
The Lady Chargers' success hasn't gone unnoticed by the rest of the state either. Eagle's Landing Christian Academy is currently ranked second in the gasports.com Class A state coaches' poll.
That's something few people associated with the program thought was possible after last year's inaugural season as a member of the Georgia High School Association when the team only won five games.
"Now we get to see what it's like to win," said Shadowens. "The girls have always worked hard, but now, they get to see some of the fruits of their hard work."
Much of ELCA's success can be directed toward freshman pitcher Hope Rush, who has started every game for the Lady Chargers. Of the team's 10 victories, Rush has thrown seven shutouts.
"Anytime you have pitching, that's always going to help you. You can never have enough pitching, but we have enough to get by right now," said Shadowens.
Shadowens knows Rush is only going to get better as she gains experience at the high school level. He also knows Rush might get overshadowed by pitchers at other schools in Henry County, but he is glad to have her in his lineup.
"You'd be hard pressed to find a county in Georgia that has as many good pitchers as we do here in this county. I do put Hope in that category. She's young, but she'll get better," he said. " Her movement and her pitches are very close to being as good as some of the pitchers in this county.
"She has to work on her mental ability. She's not mentally as tough as the other girls are. You talk about (Henry County's) Amber (Harrell), (Union Grove's) Terese (Gober) and (Luella's) Brooke (Loudermilk), but by the time Hope gets to be a sophomore, junior and senior, she'll be tough mentally also. So, I'm looking forward to being a spectator and watching her pitch for the next few years."
The young pitcher isn't getting too caught up in her own success.
"What I'm really excited about is the region playoffs. We are really working hard and we will go out there and try and do our best," she said.
The winning attitude has made coming to practice a whole lot more enjoyable for members of the ELCA softball squad.
"Last year was a struggle, we had to ask people to play. We almost didn't have a team. Everyone was kind of nervous playing in the Georgia High School Association," said senior Ansley Lambert "This year we are more confident, and we are ready to put some fear in some people. Us being seniors, we are ready to go out and be recognized and looking towards that state championship, one game at a time."
Shadowens has turned ELCA into a state power through emphasizing the basics of the game-good pitching, fielding, and hitting.
His players are buying into the philosophy.
I'm really excited. We've worked hard. We had a rough start at the beginning, but everything has worked out and we are making the adjustments that we need," said senior Rachel Irby.
Teammate Kayla Cooper agrees with Irby.
"Now, we know what to do in different situations like when the ball is hit," she said.
Shadowens isn't allowing the Lady Chargers to celebrate just yet.
"There's only a two-game difference in the region, so if we stumble somewhere along the way then we are down to a one-game lead. We respect the teams that are in our region, and even the teams that are struggling right now, some of them have decent pitching," he said.
Shadowens likes the fact that several of his players can play different spots in the field. There are also several freshman and sophomores already contributing to the success of the program.
"Almost every girl on the team has played multiple positions. We have not put the same lineup on the field in two games in a row all season," he said. "Of course, we know who our pitcher is going to be, and we know who our catcher is going to be, other than that, we tell them that they have to win their position."
That, Shadowens said, makes his team work harder.
"We have gotten a lot of hard work out of Misti Martin, who wasn't playing a whole lot early, Ansley has won her position back with hard work," Shadowens said. "Sadie Lambert has turned into a really good outfielder, so we have girls who have taken this thing of working hard to heart.
They trust me, and believe me that if they work hard, they are going to be rewarded."
The Lady Chargers play three straight road games starting Wednesday against St. Francis.
They then travel to Galloway on Thursday, before closing out the regular-season against Landkark and Our Lady of Mercy next week.