(Carrollton, GA) — Brittany Portwood has played the game of softball nearly her entire life – from the time she was three years old.
But late last fall the West Georgia Tech freshman was ready to call it quits. For the first time in her life, she was many miles away from her family and her home in Ringgold, Ga. And she was homesick.
“I got really homesick after the fall, and I made a decision that I would finish out the spring and then move back home to Ringgold and give up my career,” Portwood said. “I still loved the game but I just didn’t like being away from home and I was ready to move back. My mind was pretty much made up.”
Enter West Georgia Tech head softball coach Stephanie Herrera. It was time to recruit Portwood for a second time, to come back to WGTC and not only finish her freshman campaign, but to commit to finishing her career here as well.
Herrera sat down with Portwood before the Christmas break and Portwood told her that she wasn’t coming back after her freshman year.
“She was just really homesick and missed her family terribly,” Herrera said. “In the fall you spend a lot of time trying to get to know your players and understand what makes them tick. I figured out early on that Brittany was a great kid and a tremendous student-athlete. But I noticed some discouragement at practice and in some of the games we played in the fall.”
Over the Christmas break, Herrera phoned Portwood constantly. She offered extra hitting and pitching sessions. She asked Portwood to at least see how the spring went before making a decision one way or the other. Portwood agreed to reconsider.
“Coach Herrera told me over and over that I was too good to quit,” Portwood said. “She told me that if I did quit – that I would regret it. And she was right.”
Herrera knew that Portwood would be a key part of her 2014 squad – which was making the jump to the highest level of competition in junior college softball, Division 1 of the NJCAA. But even she couldn’t imagine the impact that Portwood would have this spring.
Portwood quickly established herself as the ace of the pitching staff – appearing in 23 games. Of those 23 games, 17 were compete-game efforts – which was third-best in the conference.
She compiled a 1.75 ERA, also third in the conference. She was second in the conference in shutouts, with five. Portwood struck out 98 batters and walked 22.
Portwood’s efforts earned her a spot on the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association – Region 17 First Team All-Conference squad. She was also under consideration for conference player of the year.
“Over the course of the spring, I learned what makes Brittany tick,” Herrera said. “She loves the game. She loves being on the field. She loves to compete. And that is something that we both have in common.”
Portwood credits Herrera, as well as her teachers at West Georgia Tech for playing a big part in her success as a freshman.
“The teachers at West Georgia Tech have been great,” she said. “They’ve been so accommodating and the education that I’m getting here is top-notch. The teachers wish us well throughout the season and they always ask us how we are doing.”
The Golden Knights finished 6-13 in conference play this season, but Portwood anticipates a big improvement next season.
“I’m really excited about next year. We have a great crop of freshmen coming in that really love the game. They have so much enthusiasm and they are really talented. Our first year in Division 1 was a learning curve for a lot of us. I look for us to take a big step up next year,” she said.
If West Georgia Tech is to make big strides next season, a big factor almost certainly will be the performance of Portwood in the circle.
She has six pitches in her repertoire: fastball, change, curve, screw, drop and rise. She said she is working on a seventh pitch – a drop-curve. Her fastball tops out at 63 mph. Her go-to pitch? The rise ball.
Quite fitting – since Portwood and the West Georgia Tech softball program are both on the rise. ~Aaron Sones, WGTC Sports Information Director