This past season will definitely go down as one to remember for the Lady Redskin softball program. One of the most pleasant surprises this year was the rise of sophomore Samantha Howard.
She was recently awarded October Bryan County Co-Athlete of the Month, sharing the monthly honors with RHHS softball player Jena Reddick.
"Samantha came through for us when we needed her and she matured tremendously this year," head coach Kim Covington said. "She is turning into a team leader and she’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years at Bryan County High School."
Howard proved to be a shining star in the month of October by generating one of the strongest batting averages in the Coastal Empire. She ended the season with an impressive .452 batting average which includes a home run at the region tournament in Dublin and another home run at the state tournament in Columbus. Overall, she led her team in runs batted in, bringing home 35 of her fellow teammates.
"She’s the kind of kid that, when she comes to bat and you have two outs, you’re glad to see her come up because you can count on a rally," assistant coach Robin Butler said. "She’s a real smart offensive player."
Also in October, when star pitcher Ashley Barfield was taken out of sectionals in Dublin due to injury, Howard showed incredible improvement on the mound to help lead her team to the state playoffs.
The spotlight brightly turned to her as the relief pitcher became the starting pitcher, and Howard answered the call by stepping it up a notch and turning in the highest level of pitching in her softball career thus far. When it was all said and done, she struck out 116 batters in the 85 innings she pitched this season.
"She really came into her own in October, and I think Ashley being hurt had a lot to do with it," Butler said. "We (coaches) knew she had it in her and we had confidence in her, but she had to gain that confidence within herself. I think being put in the position of sink or swim may have brought that out in her. She knew it was on her. I can’t tell you what a fantastic job that child did when we went to Dublin. There was no Ashley in Dublin, yet we got to state. Samantha Howard had a lot to do with that. I’m sure she was nervous, but it never showed."
The level of improvement and maturity she experienced caused her teammates to take notice and hold her in a higher regard, Butler said.
"She’s really become a leader and the girls have seen it," Butler said. "It was a different ball team in Dublin because the other girls knew Ashley’s abilities and there was a lingering question mark with her being out. Now they realize and have become confident in Samantha’s ability – in good time too because Ashley graduates this year. Samantha’s got some big shoes to fill, but I think she’s got the feet to fill them – I really do."
Butler said the soft-spoken Howard leads in a quiet manner as she lets her performance and hard work at practice do the talking – gaining respect from teammates as a result.
This includes training not just weekdays at school, but also on weekends with her parents – Renegades travel team coaches Steve and Christy Howard.
Howard said her parents are to blame for her extraordinary hitting this season as the trio focused heavily on batting over the summer. Her father said she has always been a power hitter, but is more effective now that she has more control at the plate.
"They’re both great coaches and they know what to do for her to succeed," Butler said of Howard's parents. "It has had a big impact on her performance."
"We’ve watched her grow since T-ball from day one, and it’s really exciting," her mother said. "She just reacts now with the instincts of a great softball player. That is the best possible reward for our coaching efforts."
Butler said Howard applies the same work ethic to her academics.
"She’s the only kid who has ever said ‘can you please turn the lights on so I can study’ in the bus on the way home from away games," Butler said. "She’s more than just an athlete – she’s a student athlete. It’s important to her to keep up her grades and she’s done that by making honor roll every time."
Howard hopes to progress onto the softball team at Georgia Southern and eventually the Olympic level. Even beyond that, her career goals may tell you something about the passion she has for the sport.
"I don’t think I could ever leave softball behind completely," she said. "I’d like to still do something that involves the sport – like sports medicine, physical education teacher or coaching."