June 10, 2014

Select showdown

Cruse, Thomas will represent North today in GACA All-Star Showcase

It’s not uncommon for a Northwest Whitfield High School softball player to take part in the state’s premier all-star event for the sport.

This year, though, the Lady Bruins have multiple representatives playing — as well as the top coach.

Bayli Cruse and Colbie Thomas will represent their alma mater and the area today in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association’s All-Star Softball Showcase. The 11 a.m. doubleheader at Alto Park in Rome will pit recent seniors from the northern half of the state against their counterparts from the southern half of the state.

Northwest’s Jason Brooker will coach the North squad after serving as an assistant in the game in 2013.

The North roster listed on the GACA website (gacacoaches.com) includes Ringgold’s Devan Brown, but Thomas said Brown isn’t participating. That leaves Marietta’s Lassiter as the closest school to Northwest with a player participating.

“It’s pretty cool because we’re the only local team (represented),” Cruse said. “There’s no one even remotely close to us on this team. We’re definitely on the map.”

Northwest put itself on the map when it comes to statewide recognition for fast-pitch softball over the past five years, though. The Lady Bruins finished among the top four teams in Class 4A four times during the past five seasons and won the state title the past two years, with Cruse and Thomas playing crucial roles in those title runs.

Cruse, a power-hitting catcher, was named The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Player of the Year and has signed with Tennessee Tech University. Thomas, an outfielder and speedy baserunner, earned her third selection to the All-Area Team last fall. Both also earned GACA All-State recognition in Class 4A — Cruse was the Player of the Year and Thomas joined fellow Northwest senior Ashley Conner and junior teammate BriLeigh Baggett on the All-State squad.

Last year, pitcher Emily Boyd was the lone representative for the Lady Bruins in the GACA All-Star Softball Showcase. The South won the first game, but the North earned a split when Boyd pitched in the second game for a 4-3 victory.

“It’s a privilege and honor because, like (Cruse) said, we are the only local team,” Thomas said. “Emily was the only local girl last year.”

Cruse, along with teammate Macy Weeks, played in the Georgia Dugout Club’s All-State Games at LaGrange College in November. That event included four separate teams grouped by their Georgia High School Association regions.

Brooker, who has led Northwest to the state title in each of his first two seasons as head coach, was the GACA Class 4A Coach of the Year for 2013. He considers today’s all-star doubleheader more prestigious that the Georgia Dugout Club event because it involves fewer players.

“There are only 16 girls picked to play and only two teams,” he said.

However, Brooker said there isn’t much coaching involved with an all-star team of this quality. He, Cruse and Thomas are already in Rome for the competition, and Brooker told the North’s players he wants them to swing away.

“I told them, ‘You made this team because you’re good, not because you can bunt a runner to second,’” Brooker recalled. “We’re going to hit.”

This isn’t the end of all-star action for Thomas, who will play in the Stump on Sports All-Star Classic at 6 p.m. on June 18 at Frost Stadium in Chattanooga. That game will feature recent seniors from northwestern Georgia taking on the same from southeastern Tennessee.

Cruse was invited to play, but she said she’ll be on vacation at the time. Northwest’s other four seniors from the 2013 season — Ashley Conner, Hannah Godfrey, Mallory Souther and Macy Weeks — are playing in the game. Coahulla Creek’s Erin Harden, North Murray’s Kara Deal, and Southeast Whitfield’s Chaya Drury and Kara Headrick were also listed on the Georgia roster.

The Peach State will be coached by Heritage-Catoosa’s Steve Chattin, who led his Lady Generals past Northwest to win the Region 7-4A championship but came up short against them in the Class 4A state title series.

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