One game at a time. That’s the old cliche that continues to work for the Banks County Lady Leopards. While last year was a monumental one, culminating in a state title game appearance, the girls and head coach Kelby Cronic weren’t satisfied with the final game.
That’s what motivates this team in 2019. It’s fueled the desire to return with what on paper may be the most complete team in school history. Losing Jaycie Bowen, the reigning BLITZ Player of the Year, definitely hurts. But the current group is absolutely loaded with a deep lineup, lights out pitching, and the one thing you can’t coach — experience.
“I can’t tell you how much experience [makes a difference],” says Cronic. “That experience plays a part, because now we hope we make it back to Columbus and we have the tools to do it. But going there, the nerves are out, and they’ve only got one focus in mind, getting the job done. I tell the girls, the only way to get better is win the last game.”
Banks County, off to a quick 5-0 start to the season, has obliterated opponents by a score of 37-5, and are coming off a statement 9-0 win over #1-ranked Jefferson — on the road! The Lady Leopards are ranked first in the state poll for Class 2A. Still, the girls don’t set their sights on that.
“We’re all really excited, but it’s just a number to us,” says senior pitcher Tybee Denton, who shut out Jefferson and recorded 21 strikeouts (every batter she retired was by strikeout) AND hit two homeruns. “Honestly, [the top ranking] puts more pressure on us, but we perform under pressure.”
The pitching, led by Denton, the deep lineup, and the experience are key components to why Banks County is doing what it’s doing. However, there’s another element that the team knows is pivotal to success — chemistry.
“We try to relax…and have a good time before games,” says senior outfielder Kya Santiago. “We have a different mindset [when it’s game time].”
One other element that is a direct component for putting together the type of season Banks County is going for is an obvious one, but is often overlooked – hard work during the summer.
“We started in June,” says junior Madison Cronic. “Almost all of our summer was here, all of July was here. We kind of figured out what we had, what we didn’t have. We’re all really close,” said Cronic, pointing to the fact that most of the team has played together since they were 8-10 years old.
Banks County went 29-10 in 2018, falling in the state title game. The previous season (2017), the Lady Leopards were 26-9 with a region title and a semifinals run. Since 2012, the softball program has been among the best in the state, winning nearly 140 games, three region titles, six state playoff runs, and five seasons in which they were state-ranked (including this year).
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