24-6 and an Elite 8 trip would be more than satisfying for some teams, but for the Stephens County Lady Indians softball team, last year was just the tip of the iceberg.
After returning almost every key player from last season’s historic run, the Lady Indians are in a great position to go further than just the Elite 8, where their season ended in two straight losses in Columbus.
Star pitcher Emma Whitfield returns for her junior season. Her recruiting list is long, as many Division-I teams are looking at her as well as other Division-II programs. Whitfield was an amazing 24-5 last season, with a microscopic 0.92 ERA and 232 strikeouts.
While last year was amazing, first year head coach Katie Jo Gentry talks about how the team’s Elite 8 run has fueled their desire to be better this season.
“Every team’s goal starting the season is ‘let’s win state,'” says Gentry. “Our goal is to win state, but instead of just making the Elite 8, we want to at least make the Final 4.”
Gentry is in her first year as head coach, but has been an assistant coach the last two seasons, so the transition was seamless for the team and for her.
Whitfield also recognizes the impact the best season in school history has had on the program.
“From the community we have higher expectations,” adds Whitfield, the 2016 BLITZ Softball Player of the Year and Now Habersham Athlete of the Year for 2016-17. “We have put higher expectations on ourselves, and other teams are expecting us to be better and better also.”
With almost every playmaker back from last season, the Lady Indians will have a great shot at a state title. However, nothing is a given in one of the state’s toughest regions for softball.
“We had girls sitting on the bench last year that could have started somewhere else,” adds Gentry. “We’re very blessed to have that kind of depth.”
“All across the board, we’re constantly battling to maintain a good standing in our region,” says Gentry. “Three out of five teams in our region were in the Elite 8….we have great competition, they’re fun to play and we like the challenge; we like to be pushed”
Whitfield somehow has gotten better during the summer leading up to the first game, a 3-0 win over East Hall in which Whitfield struck out 13 batters.
“I played a lot of games this summer, and I’ve been doing a lot in the weight room to get stronger and doing the little things to get better,” exclaims Whitfield.
Stephens County was ranked as high as number two in the state last season.
Feature photo by Daniel Purcell