January 20, 2014

Northwest Whitfield's Bayli Cruse still earning state awards

Devin Golden

— Bayli Cruse had many individual milestones the Northwest Whitfield softball player wanted to accomplish as a senior.

There’s nothing wrong with setting your goals high — and even better if you can attain them all.

Cruse earned another top player recognition with one of the Georgia Dugout Club’s two Class 4A player of the year awards after owning a major part in the Lady Bruins’ road to a second consecutive Class 4A state championship. Heritage-Catoosa pitcher Lauren Lawson won the other Class 4A honor.

“It’s really exciting because, again, this is another one of my goals,” said Cruse, who also won the Region 7 player of the year, the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Class 4A player of the year and The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Player of the Year awards.

Northwest coach Jason Brooker said the club’s awards process includes coaches nominations and a coach-comprised committee to select the winner.

Brooker received one of the class’ two coach of the year awards and commended both the team’s talent and his assistants for garnering the recognition. It’s the coach’s second straight year earning the award.

“I’m glad he got it, too, because he deserves it,” Cruse said.

Headed to play softball at Tennessee Tech on a full scholarship, she led the Lady Bruins this season in batting average (.464), home runs (10), RBIs (62), doubles (21), slugging percentage (.833), on-base percentage (.500) and on-base-plus-slugging percent (1.333). Northwest beat Heritage to win the state title. Last year, Cruse hit the title-clinching homer against Madison County.

“I achieved all of my personal goals,” Cruse said.

“And then as a team we achieved winning the state title after everyone thought we wouldn’t do it.”

They thought that because of Emily Boyd’s graduation. The ace pitcher went 28-2 with a 0.65 ERA and 295 strikeouts in 192.7 innings pitched in her senior year and won the same award. After winning the first state title, Cruse wasn’t satisfied.

“A week or so after Columbus, she was at the field doing hitting drills and hitting in the cage,” said Brooker, who also noted Cruse as a top-notch student. “She knew she wasn’t done.

“With Emily gone, (everyone on the team) probably felt, ‘This is our time.’ She probably had the same attitude they did.

“She had that killer instinct. That’s what you’re looking for. Just the mental toughness of being their before and having big at-bats, and the position she plays where she is part of every pitch.”

Cruse’s recognition means the school has won two straight GACA and Georgia Dugout player of the year awards with two different players.

“I think both Emily and I are on the wall of champions (inside the Northwest cafeteria),” Cruse said. “I think that’s a big thing for the school.”

Brooker acknowledged how high the level of talent has been for the Lady Bruins’ program, and Cruse is at the top of that group.

“It’s talent and drive,” Brooker said, “and she definitely has that.”