March 20, 2014

Harden finishes her comeback, signs with Emmanuel College

VARNELL — When Erin Harden tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, the Coahulla Creek High School softball pitcher gained more drive to succeed, she said.

She didn’t want to be “just another athlete who got injured” and become a shell of her former self.

And the end goal in what would be a successful comeback would be an offer to play at the next level.

The senior signed a partial athletic scholarship with Emmanuel College’s softball program on Wednesday at the high school and will help the Franklin Springs school transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II status. She becomes the first Coahulla Creek softball player to sign a scholarship with a college program and will become the first athlete in the high school’s history to play at the Division II level once Emmanuel completes its three-year transition after the 2015-2016 school year.

“It’s exciting for our program,” Lady Colts coach Josh Swiney said. “She’s leading the way.”

A transfer from Christian Heritage School after her sophomore year, Harden sat out her junior year and injured her left ACL playing basketball last spring. She had surgery in February, and normal recovery time is six months. However, she was cleared to play again by doctors after four months, but had to stay in the pitcher’s circle for the first few weeks as a precaution.

“My junior year, when I got hurt, that’s when I wanted to prove I wasn’t just an athlete who got hurt and came back to play,” Harden said. “I wanted to be someone who was going further. I didn’t want to just end after that.

“I think I showed I could come back after something like that which should’ve set me back but instead came back after four months and was out there as soon as I could.”

Harden finished her senior year with a 13-7 record, a dominant 1.55 earned-run average through 126 1/3 innings pitched, and struck out 185 batters. Helping the Lady Colts to a 21-9 record and one win from qualifying for the Class 3A state playoffs, she was an honorable mention selection to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Softball team.

“She came back with a mentality of having something to prove,” Swiney said. “She’s a great all-around pitcher. She has a great fastball, a great riseball, and started developing her off-speed pitches as the season progressed. I’m excited to see her continue to get better for the next four years.”

Swiney was a first-year head coach this season after assisting former coach and current athletic director Rhett Parrott for the previous two years. He said it was a “luxury” having someone like Harden, who also hit .318 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in just half a season of at-bats.

“You knew every time Erin started (at pitcher) she would keep you in the ball game,” he said. “From the middle of the season, she became our second-leading hitter average-wise. She led the team in home runs.”

After visiting Emmanuel in September, Harden sensed it was where she wanted to be. She verbally committed two months ago after visiting Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee and Tennessee Wesleyan with the other Coahulla Creek senior softball players.

“Whenever I visited, I fell in love,” Harden said. “I talked to some of the girls on the (Emmanuel) team and asked them, ‘How do you know where to go? What made you decide?’ They said, ‘You get a feeling when you visit, and that’s your place.’ When I visited, I just had the feeling. When I went to other places, I didn’t get that feeling again.”

Emmanuel coach Kacey Alexander is glad Harden chose her school. Emmanuel is 2-16 this season and 0-6 in Southern States Athletic Conference games. Swiney read a letter from Alexander at Harden’s signing that expresses the recruit’s value to the Lady Lions program.

“Her tremendous work ethic and positive attitude will be a great addition to our program,” the letter stated. “She has already asked several times what workouts she can be doing and how she can improve. That alone proves that she will be a huge asset and a leader on the mound. Her work ethic on and off the field will lead her to a very successful career, as a pitcher, here at Emmanuel College.”

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