A topsy-turvy Bartow County softball season saw the resumption of a tradition and great individual performances at all four schools, but only one local team advancing to the state playoffs.
That school was Woodland, where the Lady Wildcats started slow but eventually stormed all the way to their region championship game, clinching a No. 2 seed that allowed them to host their first-ever home series in the state tournament.
They lost that series to top 10-ranked Loganville, but it was still a quality season for Woodland.
Perhaps the next closest team to qualifying for a state berth was Cartersville, which lost a heartbreaking three-game series to Troup County in the region tournament with a spot on the line.
One season after joining Woodland as the only county teams in the state tournament, the Lady Canes were never able to put together consistent games, and it hurt them.
The Adairsville Lady Tigers suffered through a tough region schedule, going 4-9 and finishing one spot off the bottom, but also staked a claim to be the best team in the county by winning the reborn Bartow County championship.
Behind their powerful lineup, the Lady Tigers run-ruled Cass 10-2 in the championship game.
As for that Lady Colonels team, they also struggled early in the season, losing their first five and 10 of 11.
It never really got better than that, although there were hopeful signs late in region play as they beat Paulding County and hung with current Elite 8 team Carrollton before losing to Woodland to close their season.
HITTER OF THE YEARParis Poston, Cartersville
A mainstay of the Lady Canes lineup for years now, Poston put up double-take-inducing numbers in her senior season.
She recorded a hit in over half of her at-bats, posting a .519 batting average that led the county.
In fact, she led the county in all three triple-slash categories, posting a .519/.587/.805 overall line, good for a 1.392 OPS.
To put those numbers in perspective, only two other girls in the county even hit over .400, and only one got on base at a .500 clip.
“It’s tremendous,” Cartersville coach Shannon Dietrich said. “She gets in the box and you see her make an out, and it’s almost a rarity. You never expected that to happen, especially this season. It seemed like every time she stepped in, she was getting on base.”
Her sweet left-handed swing made her the mainstay of the Cartersville lineup, as she drove in 20 runs, scored 25 and hit four homers.
The latter two numbers led her team, and the four bombs were tied for second in the county.
“She was able to hit for power, hit to all fields, hit to the situation, whatever it may be,” Dietrich said. “I think the best thing with Paris this year with her at bats, she struck out maybe one or two times all year. She puts the ball in play.”
Poston, in fact, did strike out only twice in 2017.
Add that to her good defense in right field and senior leadership, and it’s no surprise she got a scholarship to play at Columbus State.
“She did a lot of leading by example this year,” Dietrich said. “Coming out every day, her leadership and the work that she’s put in over the years, ... the hard work pays off.”
PITCHER OF THE YEARLoren Harris, Adairsville
The header says Pitcher of the Year, but this is really an all-around award for Harris.
The senior reprised her role as Adairsville’s ace in the circle — and, oh by the way, also put up the second-best hitting stats in the county after Poston.
“Loren was a great leader for us,” Adairsville coach Amanda Nelson said. “I could put her in at pitcher, I could put her in at first base. She was always solid in the field. ... Just a great all-around player, defense and offense.”
Harris, who’s committed to North Georgia as a pitcher, fell off a bit after posting a 3.03 ERA as a junior last year, recording a 3.50 mark in 94 innings this year.
She took all the tough assignments for the Lady Tigers and went 9-6 with two saves.
“She had a lot of speed, she had good movement,” Nelson said. “She got better as the season went on.”
She was even better at the plate, though.
Harris slashed .444/.493/.778. Her batting average and slugging percentage were second in the county behind Poston, and the four home runs she hit were tied for second behind fellow Lady Tiger Sadye Johnson.
She drove in 18 runs and scored 22.
“When I took the job, I heard, ‘You’ve got a really great pitcher, Loren Harris,’” Nelson said. And then this summer, when we were playing, she hit a home run at one of our summer games and she came in just smiling. I remember asking her, I said, ‘Do you do that a lot?’ And she just kind of shook her head, like, ‘Yeah.’ And, you know, she’s a very solid hitter. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was great to find out about.”
Add it all up, and it’s difficult to argue against Harris as the best all-around player in the county.
Morgan Bailey, Woodland
Nobody epitomized the small-ball, slash-and-dash philosophy of the Lady Wildcats more than Bailey, who changed from a right-handed hitter to a lefty slapper in the offseason.
“She’d never hit left-handed until March,” Woodland coach Colman Roberts said. “I thought she did awesome. ... She’s real fast and she throws left-handed, so during basketball I asked her, ‘Would you be interested in slapping?’ She said yeah, so we went down to the
cages starting in March, and she was kind of a natural to it.”
Even with no power to speak of — her slugging percentage of .360 was barely above her batting average of .340 — Bailey was still a valuable contributor.
Her batting average of .340 and on-base percentage of .441 led Woodland, and those marks led to Bailey scoring 30 runs, which led the county.
She also made just one error at first base.
Colbi Ballard, Cartersville
Ballard threw 103 innings as Cartersville’s primary pitcher this year, but her biggest impact was at the plate.
Teaming up with Poston in the middle of the Lady Canes lineup, she hit .390/.415/.610 with three homers.
Her power carried her to 26 RBIs, second-most in the county.
“I knew Colbi could swing the bat with the best of them in our region,” Dietrich said. “She’s such a strong girl, even if she mishits a ball, she hits it hard enough to get it through a hole.”
Sarah Baynard, WoodlandA rare pitcher-only in the county, Baynard carried the load in the circle for Woodland this year.
She threw 146.1 innings, by far the most in the county.
With that workload, she also led the county in wins, with 12, and strikeouts, with 67.Control problems were an issue, as she had 53 walks, but Baynard managed the damage enough to put up a 2.49 ERA.
“She never complains, always wants to pitch,” Roberts said. “Sarah pitched against all the tough teams. ... She’s really more of a ground ball pitcher, so we have to play defense behind her. I thought she did awesome during the year.”
Emily Collum, Adairsville
Collum, a mainstay on the all-county teams for both softball and soccer, starts her senior year with another nod thanks to a devastating offensive season.
She hit .389 with a .529 on-base percentage, second in the county behind Poston.
Her four homers contributed to a .704 slugging percentage, third in the county.
Collum, usually a catcher, also moved around the diamond this year for the Lady Tigers, seeing some time at shortstop.“She’s one of those she can play any position she’s asked to play, and she was a solid hitter for us all season,” Nelson said. “She’s got a great attitude, great work ethic and always willing to do whatever she needs to do for the team.”
Ansley Evans, Woodland
Evans put up a great freshman season as another cog in Woodland’s army of slap-hitting on-base machines.
Despite slugging just .384, which, actually, was second on the Lady Wildcats, Evans helped key the offense with a .333 batting average and .431 on-base percentage.
Once she got on, Evans stayed dangerous. She stole seven bases, which helped her score 29 runs, behind her teammate Bailey for second in the county.
After a performance like that as a freshman, Roberts is excited to see what Evans will do next year, when she’ll likely move to shortstop, her natural position, to replace the graduated Brittney Cox.
“She was just a tough kid,” Roberts said. “[She’s] a good defensive player, and a tough-nosed kid. She’ll do well for us at short.”
Sarah Fox, Cass
After a transcendent junior year in which she nearly hit .500, Fox came back down to earth a little as senior, but still showed off her all-around game for the Lady Colonels.
She hit just .317, but with a .442 on-base percentage and .508 slugging.
Her .949 OPS led Cass, as did her 14 RBIs.
She showed speed on the basepaths as well, with nine stolen bases, and did it all while pulling the opposite of Collum’s switch, as Fox moved from shortstop to catcher.
“She was very passionate about the game, and takes it very seriously,” Cass coach Damian Elder said. “The pitchers felt so much more comfortable with her behind the plate.”
Caroline Higdon, Woodland
Higdon was Woodland’s power source this year.
Hitting in the middle of the Lady Wildcats lineup, she drove in 35 runs, by far the most in the county and 12 more than anyone else on her team.
“Caroline, she was good all year,” Roberts said. “She was consistent all year.”
A left-handed hitter, she scalded baseballs to the tune of a .337/.409/.485 line.
A lineup full of leadoff hitters is fine, but someone needs to drive those runners in, and Higdon came through time after time for Woodland.
Havyn Isaac, Adairsville
Another member of Adairsville’s Elite 8 soccer team, Isaac, like Collum, put her athleticism to work on the diamond this year.
Isaac, with a .413/.448/.619 line, was one of four Lady Tigers to post an OPS over 1.000.
She drove in 17 runs, scored 11 and hit three homers, while playing good defense at second base.
“Havyn, I feel like, was our most solid player all year, manning her position at second base and just continuing to grow all year as a hitter,” Nelson said. “She was our leadoff hitter to start with, and then she started hitting home runs, so we moved her down to thesecond spot at least, and her bat got hotter and hotter as the year went by.”
Sadye Johnson, Adairsville
Johnson certainly made an impression in her freshman year, bursting onto the scene to lead the county — and all of Class 3A — in home runs, with six.
“I remember asking her mom at the beginning of the season, you know, ‘Has she been on a workout program for a few years?’ And she’s like, ‘No, she just went to her first weightlifting class this summer with the high school,’” Nelson said. “So yeah, to see that kindof power from a freshman is amazing and wonderful.”
The precocious slugger also drove in 25 runs to lead the Lady Tigers.
She hit .359 with a .703 slugging percentage, all while splitting time at shortstop and catcher with Collum.
“We see her stepping into the shoes of these girls,” Nelson said. “To know that we’ve got an upcoming sophomore who can step into those shoes and carry on that role is comforting.”
Sarah Moore, Cass
The second half of Cass’ up-the-middle tandem of Sarahs, Sarah Moore took over at shortstop as Sarah Fox moved to catcher this year.
She also provided an offensive punch, leading the Lady Colonels in hitting with a .329 average.
It wasn’t the best year for Cass, but that didn’t fall on Moore’s shoulders.
She also slugged .438 and stole five bases.
“Sarah Moore was like a leader of them all,” Elder said. “She was a very versatile player and towards the end of the season, her bat was really good.”
Sierra Tanner, Adairsville
Tanner gave the Lady Tigers a fifth regular who hit over .350, although she didn’t have quite the power of her middle-of-the-order teammates.
What she did have was a .354 batting average and .417 on-base percentage, which allowed her to score 23 runs, tops on the team.
“Sierra was one that, she really worked hard this summer,” Nelson said. “She started out in our No. 9 spot, and she just kept hitting and kept hitting and she worked her way up and ended up hitting first or second for most of the season.”
HONORABLE MENTION: Adairsville — Natalie Burrow; Cartersville — Presley Edwards, Hope Short; Cass — Alexia Najarro; Woodland — Bella Carnes, Brittney Cox.