The Lady Raiders are peaking at the right time. After four straight wins, however, Habersham Central will have been sitting around for two weeks by the time it plays its first region tournament game.
At 9-14, there have been a lot of lows during the 2016 season, but something changed that led to the Lady Raiders’ recent surge to end the regular season on a high note. At 5-5 in Region 8-AAAAAA play, Hab Central enters the tournament in a good spot. This marks the first time in many years that the Lady Raiders have had a region tournament to play in, as the previous two regions just took the top four to the state tournament at the end of the regular season.
The current winning streak has seen the girls outscore opponents 36-18. The season is flooded early on with some close games where the Lady Raiders fell on the wrong side. Six of the 14 losses came by three runs or less.
“We’re really glad where we’re at right now, where we ended up in the back half,” says 13th year head coach Stephanie Thomas. “To be honest with you, at the beginning of the season it was very frustrating. We just weren’t hitting, putting the ball in play like we needed to. I knew what we were capable of.”
Something changed recently, and it can be traced back to some quality time that the members of the Lady Raiders had together.
“Before our four-game winning streak, we got together and had a team bonding time,” says junior pitcher Ansleigh Holland. “We all went hiking, had a cookout, spent some quality time together. We came together and realized that we had each other’s back. We reset our goals and the following week we came out strong.”
The Lady Raiders got their offense clicking and have scored six or more runs nine times in 2016. Perhaps the recent success of Habersham is what makes it tough to endure the long hiatus before starting the region playoffs.
“The pros are when you don’t have a very deep team, it gives our girls time to heal,” states Thomas. “It’s beneficial in that respect, but the cons are we’re off – we want to play. When we come off four games winning, that’s a success, we want to keep it going.”
The importance of the win streak for Habersham can’t be overstated. The girls endured a tough stretch in August in which they dropped eight straight games.
“[The win streak] was really important because it started our momentum for the region tournament,” exclaims Holland. “We came behind from an eight-game losing streak [in August], so we really did peak at the right time.”
Habersham prides itself on never giving up and fighting for all 21 outs, or more if they need it. Thomas and the girls adhere to “Raider Expectations” they use to keep themselves focused on the team goals.
“That’s always been one of our sayings, ‘Raiders don’t quit!’ says Thomas. “We worked really hard this year to keep that mindset.”
The Raiders Don’t Quit motto holds weight throughout the team.
“We fight and push each other and tell each other never give up,” says sophomore Paige Cook, who is a Mississippi State commit. “We have slow starts sometimes, but we fight and some of the teams don’t expect that.”
The Lady Raiders took down some top region teams in closing out the schedule, putting them in a great position for the region tournament.
“We played two of our top region opponents in one week, and got them,” says Thomas. “We were down in those games and came back. That was a great overall feeling to be able to do that with this team. When you constantly tell them, ‘just hang in there, keep fighting, keep fighting, it will pay off,’ then they see it happening – it’s just an amazing feeling.”
The region tournament is slated to begin on Tuesday, October 4.