Six players and one coach being recognized as among the best in the state means one thing to Northwest Whitfield’s Emily Boyd — the Lady Bruins were the epitome of a good softball team.
Northwest had six softball players make the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Class 4A all-state team, including Boyd, who was named the classification’s Pitcher of the Year. Along with Boyd, catcher Bayli Cruse, outfielder Colbie Thomas and shortstop Ashley Conner also received first-team recognition, while outfielders Hannah Godfrey and Macy Weeks were selected for the second team.
In addition, Lady Bruins coach Jason Brooker was named Class 4A’s Coach of the Year.
Dalton’s Allie Blackwood made the Class 4A second team as a designated player. Murray County’s Shea Pendley, a designated player, and Ashlee Strong, an outfielder, earned honorable mention for the Class 2A squad. Christian Heritage pitcher Rebecca Leonard earned honorable mention in Class A.
Brooker, who helped lead Northwest to its first fast-pitch softball state championship this fall and its third Region 7-4A title in four seasons, said his team finished with the most all-state nods in the classification. Boyd believes that drives home the fact that the Lady Bruins’ success was never about just one player.
“It really justifies the fact that we have a good team,” she said. “It’s not just a few really good people but six, seven, eight or nine. It’s not just one or two people. A lot of teams make it far, but you need a whole team to win state.”
Boyd, a senior who recently signed a full scholarship with Ole Miss, went 28-2 with a 0.65 ERA and 295 strikeouts in 192.7 innings pitched in another stellar season.
Cruse led the team in hits (50), home runs (nine), slugging percentage (.744) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.206). She also batted .413 with 43 RBIs, with the two biggest coming from her walkoff homer to win the state championship against Madison County 2-1 in the eighth inning.
Thomas batted .422 in the leadoff position with 10 stolen bases, tied for team best with Godfrey, who batted .423 behind Thomas. Conner led the team in batting average, .425, and drove in 36 runs. Weeks hit .355 with 29 RBIs and eight steals.
Cruse and Thomas earned first-team all-state honors last season while Conner, Godfrey and Weeks are new additions. It’s the second straight year Northwest has had four players earn first-team recognition.
Of the group, only Boyd, who was chosen The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Player of the Year the past three seasons, is a senior.
“It’s going to be great to have those girls back,” Brooker said. “These aren’t the types of girls who as seniors will get back and think they won’t have to work as hard.”
But it won’t be painless moving on without Boyd, who was pleased to be picked as the top arm in 4A. She was an all-state second-team selection as a freshman and earned honorable mention as a sophomore.
“It’s always been a goal,” Boyd said. “It’s not one you talk about because it comes down with coaches who have played against you and know who you are to vote for you. Last year there were a lot of good pitchers. I think they selected the state championship pitcher. ... I just hope the decision wasn’t as much based off the state championship winner as it was about skill.”
Brooker’s selection came in his first year as coach. He took over a team that had already been successful in recent seasons — the Lady Bruins had finished in the top four at state twice in the previous three season before winning the title this year — but said that didn’t mean the job was easy.
For one thing, it came with lofty goals from the start.
“The thing about coaching talent is it’s harder than it looks,” he said, noting he often asked Shane Ramsey, the Lady Bruins’ coach the previous three years, for advice. “There’s a lot of expectations and it’s tough to keep the girls focused and grounded. People always say, ‘Well, you had talent,’ but it’s tougher than that. We had talent and we had good kids, and I was trying to keep them focused and keep them calm when things weren’t going our way.”
Brooker also credited the help he received from assistants Brad Dunn, Scottie Kilgore and Greg Boyd, Emily’s father.
“I had great assistant coaches,” Brooker said. “I think the award should be for the whole staff, not just my name behind it.”
Dalton’s Blackwood finished 11-7 with a 1.75 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 115 innings while helping the Lady Catamounts make a surprising run to the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Dalton advanced despite entering the Region 7-4A tournament as the lowest seed. The senior, who recently signed with Austin Peay State University, also played third base, batted .443 with 11 doubles and drove in 23 runs.
For Murray County, Pendley had team-highs in batting average (.425), on-base percentage (.516), hits (34), runs (27), steals (20), doubles (8) and home runs (2). Strong batted .359 with 14 steals and 10 RBIs to help the Lady Indians come one win shy of making the state playoffs a year after going winless.
Christian Heritage’s Leonard had a 1.87 ERA, 167 strikeouts and six wins pitching in the Lady Lions’ first year of GHSA competition. The senior, who signed a full scholarship with Samford on Wednesday, batted .426 with an on-base percentage of .576.