December 6, 2021

Lady Brave freshman voted 2018 Times-Georgian Softball Newcomer of the Year

Courtesy of Nick Simon and the Times-Georgian

(Carrollton, GA) — Right from her varsity debut, Heard County High School third baseman Janiyah Strong displayed the power that opposing pitchers will have to deal with for the next three years.

In the Lady Braves’ season opener at Villa Rica on Aug. 9, the freshman slugger stepped into the box and blasted two home runs, one of which broke a seventh-inning tie and lifted Heard to a 12-10 win.

2018 Times-Georgian All-Area Newcomer of the Year Janiyah Strong (Photo: HCHS)

The kicker for the impressive debut performance is that Strong, the 2018 Times-Georgian All-Area Newcomer of the Year, didn’t even anticipate seeing the field so early.

“I never would’ve thought I’d start,” Strong said. “Coming into high school and starting at third, that’s a big position and I never would’ve thought I’d start. First game there and I was like ‘woah.’”

That was only the beginning of a stellar fall campaign in which the Heard County freshman delivered 37 hits on a .402 batting average with 12 homers, 41 RBI and eight stolen bases.

She reflected on her ability to contribute to the team’s successful 24-9 season, where they swept their way to a Region 5-AA championship.

“It’s amazing. Just to come up and be a freshman hitting 12 home runs in one season, that’s amazing,” Strong said. “I thank God for it every day and thankful to be on a field playing with these girls. They’re with me no matter what.”

Also thankful for the third baseman is Heard County head coach Matt Hornsby, who anticipated the arrival of Strong and the likes of fellow newcomers Mackenzie White, Emma Helton and Abigail Lathrop after they led Heard County Middle School to a perfect 12-0 season last year.

“There were a handful of freshmen this year that we were excited about since they were sixth graders over at the middle school and with Janiyah, she came back a better player every single year than where she left. The power’s been there for her for two or three years now, but this year I felt like she was a much better hitter in terms of average, laying off certain pitches and battling with two strikes,” said Hornsby.

“She’s definitely a rare talent on the softball field. For her to come in and add another power bat helped us big time. We needed to replace some of those big bats that graduated in the last couple of years and get more than Marissa Garza as far as power in our lineup. She definitely stepped in and defensively, she won the job fairly quickly.”

Staving off Union County in the first round of the Class AA playoffs, the top-seeded Lady Braves moved on to a round-two sweet 16 date with Dade County.

That’s where the Maroon and White power hitter once again flexed her dominance at the plate, launching three dingers in the two-game series sweep to help clinch her team a spot in Columbus.

Heard County would be eliminated by Monticello in the loser’s bracket of the elite eight field but the freshman Strong enjoyed the entire experience, from the sendoff to the actual games.

“I was at a loss for words. Just how we did that bus ride and everybody waving at us, I felt like I was a superstar,” Strong said. “As soon as we got to Columbus, it was down to business. I cared so much and I just wanted a state title so bad. It was my freshman season and these seniors are my favorites, so I just wanted to make them proud.”

For her head coach, that sharp focus reflects a poise rare for a young player at this level.

“I think the biggest jump that she’s made in the last two or three years is her maturity. She shows leadership on the field and off the field as well,” Hornsby said. “You don’t ever have to get on her about hustling or lack thereof. You don’t have to deal with off the field issues with her. With 14 and 15-year-olds, you have to deal with those things sometimes. But that’s something we didn’t have to deal with her this year.”

Now with her sensational freshman fall in the books, Strong has already pinpointed certain aspects of her game to work on as she looks forward to her sophomore campaign next year.

“My weakest pitch is outside, so I’ve been working on some outside pitches,” Strong said. “At third, I need to work on my backhand and there’s some pop flies over my head that I could work on as well.”

Coach Hornsby is looking forward to having his powerful third baseman as a centerpiece of HC’s lineup for the next three years.

“We started four freshmen on the infield this year and we’ve got several other freshmen that we think within the next year or two will be jumping into our lineup and on the field as well,” Hornsby said. “They can be a real special group and obviously Janiyah’s going to be as big a part of it as anybody.”

Other Heard County players named to the 2018 Times-Georgian All-Area team included senior pitcher Sydney Gay (First Team), Senior UT Haley Bennett (Second Team), and honorable mentions Katelyn Jiles, Emma Helton, Abigail Lathrop, Mackenzie White, Tori Caldwell, Marissa Garza, Alexus Crawford.

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