It’s certainly not for lack of trying that the Lady Raiders haven’t made the state playoffs since 2014. It’s also not for a lack of talent, as Habersham has developed many collegiate players that rolled through coach Stephanie Thomas’ program.
It’s about timing and balance. This year, there’s solid senior leadership, headlined by Mississippi State commit Paige Cook, and fellow all-region senior Adelaide Askew, as well as seniors Kylie Gray and Jenna Smith. There’s also a core of young, talented players coming out firing this year, including sophomores Kilee Thomas and PresLee Hix and pitcher Kyla Quiles. It’s also about the balance of good hitting, solid defense and good pitching. This year’s Lady Raiders have it all, and because of that they will make the state playoffs.
“It’s always tough to compare teams,” says Thomas. “But the difference is this team is a little more solid through the lineup, we’re another year older, and we’re pretty solid all the way through.”
For the girls, they recognize the difference too.
“I feel like we have a lot more confidence in ourselves,” says Cook. “There’s no one that stands out from the crowd…all of us are a strong team together, and I feel like we’ve grown.”
For Habersham Central (7-4; 2-2 Region 8-AAAAAA), the Lady Raiders have shown great signs of maturity, notably an 8-inning win over Flowery Branch and “revenge” bounce-back wins over Union County and state powerhouse Stephens County despite losing to them both the first time around. There’s been a four-game win streak, and four 10+ run outbursts by the offense.
“We don’t get down,” says Askew. “But if [other teams] score first, it’s like a motivated thing. You want to go out and score first, but if they do, we just want to go out and score more. It pushes us to the next level…we’re here now and we’re ready to play.”
The success of the team goes beyond the game itself as well, as Thomas suggests that the team focuses on the intangibles just as much.
“This team gets along well too,” adds Thomas. “They’ve really grasped the fact that they have to have each other’s back. The main thing is have fun. This is a game you’re supposed to love, and you’ve got to come out here and enjoy doing it.”
Make no doubt about it though, the Lady Raiders want to win!
“We have been wanting to get there for so long,” says Cook about not making state in the last few years. “I feel like this year, we have that capability to get there more than ever with the team that we have. We have a strong team.”