They’re used to winning in Pembroke, where Bryan County High School’s softball program has long been one of the best in the state.
After all, the Lady Redskins claimed slow-pitch state titles in 1983, 1986 and 2001. They’ve been pretty good since then, too.
Under current coach Al Butler, the Lady Redskins have made it to Columbus — the site of the state finals — on several occasions in recent years, and nearly got back there last season, falling a run short.
The Lady Redskins could be set to go further in 2014. The expectations are that they will do exactly that
“This is a very talented team,” Butler said. “It may be the most talented team, as a whole, that we have had here at BCHS.”
Among those returning are senior catcher Logan Harrell, who committed early to Armstrong State after setting the school’s single-season home run record with 12 as a junior, and ace pitcher Brooke Barfield.
Both made the Georgia Elite 80 roster over the offseason. Neither lacks for confidence.
“Our goal is to make it to Columbus,” Harrell said. “As a senior, with the team we have, I think we should make it there. It won’t be easy, but we have a team that should win state.”
“I know we can win it,” said Barfield, a junior whose older sister Ashley also played for Bryan County High School and was the 2007 Bryan County News Athlete of the Year.
Like her older sister, Brooke Barfield grew up playing softball. She also grew up wanting to play for BCHS.
“I’d come to every game,” she said. “This is all I wanted to do when I was younger. Be a pitcher for the Lady ‘Skins and take them to Columbus.”
Butler, whose record is 137-73 in his seven years as head softball coach, has expectations that mirror his team’s.
He lauds the Lady Redskins character and points to a loaded roster which includes senior centerfielder Mindy Myers, senior leftfielder Kaylee Perks, senior first baseman and rightfielder Paige Shuman, junior third baseman Layton Harrell, junior shortstop
Kaylin Leggett, junior catcher Taylor Roop and sophomores Alyssa Edwards, Alayna Williams and Brianna Campbell.
Freshman Maddy Banks, Shelby Barfield —– the younger sister of Ashley and Brooke — and McKenzie Miller are also expected to play key roles this fall.
“As always, the girls are super great people, with great attitudes and the will to prepare, and also possess the work ethic needed to be successful,” Butler said, noting the team’s run last year came last year despite injuries to its lone senior, Alana Walker, now at Armstrong State.
“I feel this team is ready to pick up where it left off. Our expectations are to play for the region championship and also make a hard push for the state title in late October,” he said. “We have some mental hurdles to clear in order to make that happen, but the physical skills are in place.”
One mental hurdle might be figuring out how to finish, Brooke Barfield said.
“That should be our goal, finishing games all the time,” she said. “We struggled with that last year. We’d fall apart and lose games sometimes. We’ve got to figure out how to stay together, keep the momentum going and finish the game.”
And lest you think softball is just a game, it is, and it isn’t.
“Mainly, to me softball is about life lessons,” said Barfield, who has played since she was 5. “Everything I’ve learned over the years, I’ve learned it on the softball field. How to take leadership, how to take accountability, how to follow other people when they’re leading. How to take command in something even though you might not know how at the moment, but then you learn the way.”
It’s about being a part of something bigger, too, she said.
“It’s being committed to something you know you love and taking it and going with it,” Barfield said.
While Jeff Davis and Vidalia are also likely to figure in the 2-AA softball race, the Lady Redskins’ biggest obstacle could be the Lady Redskins.
“We have to have a great attitude every day,” Butler said. “Work hard every day. As coaches, we have to challenge these kids every day to get better. Not just practice every day, but make it competitive and challenging. And if we can do that, the sky is the limit.”