May 22, 2018

Lady Braves Aim to Defend State Title

(Franklin) — After delivering Heard County’s first ever State Championship just over nine months ago, head coach Matt Hornsby is preparing for yet another season featuring a loaded line-up and high expectations.

They officially open the regular season Tuesday afternoon when they battle Class AAAAA power Columbus on the campus of Columbus State University.

The 2015 Lady Braves will certainly fail to sneak past anyone’s radar after finishing in the top three in Class AA at Columbus to end the last three fall campaigns.

Normally you would expect a team to come in to the season with a lot of confidence after a title and only graduating one player but in this case that one player was arguably the best player to ever graduate from HHS in any sport, Cali Harrod.

Just how well this year’s edition of the Lady Braves will adjust to the loss of such a valuable asset both on and off the field remains to be seen over the next few weeks.

Hornsby is once again implementing his hallmark strategy of finding the most difficult opponents available not just in this area or Class AA but statewide in all classes.

2015 Senior Lady Braves (L-R): Katie Minix, Madison Whitehead, Sarah Schofield, Anna Shelnutt, Jordan Watson, Johanna Beyer, Alexis Raines (Photo: Yolonda Shelnutt)

2015 Senior Lady Braves (L-R): Katie Minix, Madison Whitehead, Sarah Schofield, Anna Shelnutt, Jordan Watson, Johanna Beyer, Alexis Raines (Photo: Yolonda Shelnutt)

This year’s squad will also once again have the unique opportunity of seeing several college campuses during the season.

In addition to this past Friday’s scrimmage with Alexander High School at UWG in Carrollton and Tuesday’s opener at CSU, the team will also play at Kennesaw State University on September 5 versus Buford and on September 17 at Georgia Tech versus Wesleyan.

With most of his starting line-up back for another season, replacing Harrod (2014 GACA 2014 Class AA Player of the Year) will be one of the foremost challenges for Hornsby and staff to conquer.

Heading into Tuesday’s opening affair with the Blue Devils, even Hornsby himself doesn’t know who the starting shortstop will be as two juniors have been battling hard to earn that role during preseason practices.

Barker started Friday’s scrimmage with Alyssa Cosper entering the game late and Barker moving over to second base. Second base is another position that may have more than one player seeing action.

Junior transfer Taylor Storey and another junior Ally Harris are both expected to see action as the team dives head-on into the busiest part of the schedule featuring tournament appearances at the Callaway Classic tourney in Lagrange this weekend (August 14-15) and the Allatoona Tournament (August 28-29.

Harris has fought hard to return to the field sooner than anticipated after a serious illness last year.

The Region 5-AA regular season schedule is small featuring only four regular season games for the Lady Braves prior to the region tourney on October 10.

Even though the loss of Harrod is difficult, coaches of opponents will find empathy difficult with the Lady Braves returning basically every starter from last year’s title team including the senior D-1 battery mates pitcher Jordan Watson and catcher Anna Shelnutt.

Watson, a Michigan State University commit, was recognized last season as both the Region 5-AA Player of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year, and unusual combination in fast-pitch softball.

Despite the extremely challenging regular season schedule in 2014, Watson as always put together another strong stat line finishing her junior season with a 27-9 record, 1.21 ERA with 169 strikeouts and while allowing just 23 walks in 196.2 innings pitched.

The talented hurler proved most valuable when it really counted as she dominated in the postseason allowing only two runs during the state playoffs while putting together a Heard County record string of 68+ innings pitched without allowing an earned run.

At the plate, Watson was also dominant batting .505 with seven home runs, ten doubles, and 40 RBI’s from the heart of the batting order.

Watson should be comfortable on the mound once again as she stares at a familiar target, FSU commit Anna Shelnutt.

Another GACA first team selection in 2014 and all-region first teamer for the third straight season, Shelnutt finished last season with a .423 batting average, including a homer and 11 doubles while throwing out a very impressive 12 of 16 base runners attempting to steal.

This year’s squad features the largest senior class in school history, and playing a huge role in the success of this group will be a trio of senior outfielders including Madison Whitehead in left, Johanna Beyer in center, and Alexis Raines in right.

Another member of last year’s GACA all-state first team, Beyer had a breakout season for Hornsby finishing as one of the top defensive players in the state, while batting .348 with three home runs, a team-high three triples, 25 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 15 tries offensively.

Beyer looks to be the leading candidate to replace Harrod at the top of the line-up. She led off in Friday’s scrimmage going 2-for-4 with two RBI’s.

She also had a big summer and belted five homers during four games at a big summer tourney held in Carrollton.

Raines (.347/ two HR’s, four doubles, 26 runs, and 15 RBI’s in 2014) got her 2015 batting off to a sizzling start in the scrimmage blasting a 2-run HR off of the scoreboard in the fourth inning of a 6-5 setback.

Whitehead has quietly become a huge threat at the important slot at end of the line-up. Whitehead looks to build on a strong 2014 season where she batted .316 with a home run, 17 runs scored, and 13 RBI’s with 10 stolen bases while setting the table in the late innings for the top of the order.

Anchoring the corner infield spots will once again be the duo of junior Hannah’s, third baseman Hannah Sanders and first baseman Hannah Stephens, each all-region selections a year ago.

Both were integral keys to the championship run with Sanders blasting a team seven homers and Stephens putting together a solid hitting streak in Columbus.

Another senior, Sarah Schofield will back up Watson on the mound this season and tossed two innings in Friday’s exhibition game.

Schofield had a strong summer receiving a lot of extra innings of work in Watson’s travel-ball absence, and will be a big key for Hornsby given the unexpected loss of one of last year’s relief pitchers.

Hattie Yarbrough left the team prior to this season to pursue her dream of doing missionary work.

Other varsity players expected to play key roles include Senior Katie Minix along with two freshmen, Anna Cosper and Haley Bennett.

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