By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County softball coach Brad Thompson is looking for a hit from the next group of Rebels coming to the plate.
The 2022 ECHS seniors left a tough act to follow – 27 wins, an appearance in Columbus and a No. 6 final ranking in Class 6A by ScoreAtlanta.
Five graduates moved on to play college softball, including Region 2-6A's Player of the Year Rylee Mills who signed to play at Coastal Georgia.
But that was last year.
"We received a lot of production from that senior class and they gave Effingham County softball their all," Thompson said. "They provided leadership. Now we have to have others step up."
During the summer, a dedicated group of Rebels left Thompson optimistic as he started his second year at the school.
There will be many new faces but the ultimate goal has a familiar ring.
"Columbus is a goal we look forward to and we're going to play our hardest to make that a reality. I'm looking forward to being a senior leader and playing with these girls whom I love and care about very much so I'm excited about this season," said senior third baseman Emma Reynolds, who will be asked to help fill the leadership role after producing three home runs and 18 runs batted in last season – top numbers for Rebel returning players.
Thompson said he has had conversations with Reynolds about her increased role.
"We don't want to add extra pressure on her, but we've talked, pressure is a privilege and she's willing to accept that pressure," Thompson said. "Emma had some big games for us last year and she's such an anchor at third base."
First-team all-region shortstop Olivia Morgan and second baseman Megan Coleman will be expected to be big contributors as well. Morgan, a junior, is solid defensively and batted .341 with a .476 on-base percentage. Coleman, a senior, is also steady defensively and hit .357.
"It's nice to have their experience," Thompson said. "We want them to hit, obviously, but defense can win games with the pitching we have."
A year ago, Mills pitched in the Rebels' big games, but the pitching torch now passes to Ava Wingate and Ansleigh Giordano. The two girls combined for a 12-1 record. Wingate, 7-1 with a 2.24 earned run average, was named first-team all-region. Giordano was 5-0 with an 0.86 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 24.1 innings.
Like Wingate and Giordano, other players with limited experience will get their shots. Abbi Jones, who plays basketball and soccer, could be the starter at first base.
At catcher, Gracie LaFleur will be pushed by Jenny Parker, the only freshman on the team.
Thompson said the starting outfield positions are wide open with Wingate and Giordano (whoever is not pitching), Braylin Vincent, Grace Pritchard and Sarah Grace Hinely as the leading candidates.
ECHS alum Cevana Wood, who played at Coastal Georgia, will join the coaching staff after coaching at the middle school last season."It was a great experience for the team to make it to Columbus last year," Thompson said. "The girls see what they're chasing (after losing to eventual champion Pope and highly regarded Lassiter). We beat Houston County. We just have to get back there. The girls have their eye on that. If you can get to Columbus, that's the pinnacle of our sport. Our goal this year is to play on the last day and obviously be playing for a championship."