When the East Coweta Lady Indians softball team recorded the final out against Etowah last Saturday morning in the Class AAAAAAA state finals in Columbus, a tear or two was shed, fists were pumped in the air and excitement permeated throughout the stadium.
And that was just from me.
So one can imagine how thrilled the Lady Indians were to become state champions, especially since, unlike me, they did all the work on the softball field. They had every right to be exuberant, excited and just plain ol’ happy — even more so than me, I guess.
My happiness Saturday came from seeing the girls and the coaching staff reach the pinnacle of their sport. There’s nothing like covering a team all the way through the regular season and the state playoffs and watching them complete the journey by winning the state title in their sport.
Some reporters can just cover teams and write stories without interacting with anyone. That’s not my modus operandi – I talk to the players about everything and anything, including their sport. Coaches aren’t left out – we will talk not only about their sport, but sometimes about life situations in general. When the teams around Coweta County see me, they may not always know my name, but they’re always glad I came.
The 2017 softball season for East Coweta was the most incredible and impressive season of softball I’ve ever seen. And this is coming from someone who witnessed a strong Fayette County High softball team in the early 2000s, which featured outstanding pitcher Bonnie Bynum. Griffin High had a softball player named Alex Smith, who hit homers at such a good clip in 2008 and 2009 I started calling her Alex “Pujols” after the major league baseball slugger.
But nothing can compare to the 2017 EC softball team, which went on to a state-record 36-0 mark on the way to the fast-pitch championship in the state’s highest classification. Normally during a season, I have to write a few sad stories when one or more of my teams loses. Not so for this EC team and not for this writer. I didn’t attend all 36 games, but when I saw the Lady Indians, all the stories written were positive ones.
Allow me to list just a few of this team’s accomplishments:
The Lady Indians had an unbelievable 24 shutouts this season, with the biggest shutout being 15-0 twice.
They won 13 games via the mercy rule, where the games were called by the umpires before the full seven innings were played.
They only had two close wins, a 4-3 win in 10 innings at Alexander during the regular season, and a 3-2 win over Etowah in the state semifinals. Every other win for EC was either by three runs or more.
All in all, it was an incredible season from a great group of young ladies at EC. There’s not enough room to describe the brilliance of junior Kelley Lynch, who can hurt teams with 13 strikeouts on the mound and then smack home runs at the plate; the excellence of the three seniors – Rachel Vaughan, Olivia Davis and Ashlynn Gunter; the clutch, Derek Jeter-like play of junior outfielder Carmen Prior; and the play of sophomores Aniston Wright, Hanna Miller, Ansley Gunter, Lilly Agan and Caison Byars, who all came through when the team needed them most this year.
And last but not least, the entire EC bench players did their part, from encouraging each other from the dugout, being smart on the bases when they were pinch-running and making beats on empty coolers and buckets to start their cheers.
EC head coach Franklin DeLoach said the road to the state title was a 12-month process. Everybody trusted said process and now the Lady Indians are champions.
“I told the girls that when we look in the rearview mirror after leaving Columbus, I wanted all of us to feel that we left no stone unturned at that park,” DeLoach said last weekend after the title-game victory. “I’d say we accomplished that mission.”
Mission accomplished indeed.
Jeff Armstrong is a sports writer for the Newnan Times-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.