STAFF REPORTSoftball in Bartow County certainly appears to be on the upswing. The sport is arguably one of the county’s best across the board, and with only a few key seniors sprinkled throughout the four teams’ rosters, the future appears increasingly bright.
For the second straight year, Woodland was the class of the county. The Wildcats won a second consecutive county championship and qualified for the Class 5A state playoffs for the fourth straight season, setting a school record. For the third time in that span, Woodland reached the Sweet 16. A two-game sweep to Whitewater at that stage ended the Wildcats’ campaign with a 21-12 record.
Cartersville also finished with a winning record (14-13). The Canes, though, fell just shy of their goal to making it to the Class 4A state playoffs. Boosted by an impressive collection of freshmen, Cartersville improved greatly, and depending on how reclassification shakes out, the Canes should continue to push for postseason berths in the coming years.
No team in the county improved as greatly from 2018 to 2019 as Cass. The Colonels boasted a talented sophomore class and an influx of gifted freshmen only made the young core stronger. With a top of the lineup as tough as any in Region 7-AAAAA, Cass more than tripled its win total from last season en route to a 13-17 overall record.
There is quite possibly no better softball region in Georgia than Region 6-AAA. At the end of the regular season, there were five teams from the region ranked in the top-10 in the state. It’s no surprise that an Adairsville team with just one senior had trouble keeping pace in the league. A great junior class will be back to anchor the Tigers next season.
Player of the Year: Alexis Woods, Cass freshman
There were plenty of outstanding freshmen who made their varsity debuts in Bartow County in 2019. Woods stood out above the rest. In fact, she stood out above all the incredible players in the county. As leadoff hitter for the Colonels, Woods did an excellent job setting the table, racking up 46 hits, including 18 doubles, three triples and two home runs. She only drew seven walks but still posted an absurd line of .474/.505/.784 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Woods scored 33 runs and even drove home 21. She swiped 17 bags in 18 tries, while also playing nearly flawless defense at second base. Her ceiling is ridiculously high.
Hitter of the Year: Lauren McElhaney, Cartersville senior
This is honor is to reward McElhaney for what she did with her bat, but that doesn’t seem quite fair considering there really isn’t anything McElhaney doesn’t do well on the softball field. As a catcher, she did a great job helping lead a team that relied almost exclusively on three freshman pitchers. As a baserunner, McElhaney went a perfect 11-for-11 on stolen-base attempts. As a hitter, all she managed to do was rack up 24 RBIs and 23 runs scored with a .438/.490/.629 slash line. One-third of her hits went for extra bases, as she totaled 10 doubles, 2 triples and an inside-the-park home run, which came in her final game for Cartersville.
Pitcher of the Year: Lainey Baker, Woodland sophomore
What can be said about Baker that wasn’t mentioned ad nauseam throughout the season. Plainly put, she put together one of the most impressive seasons in a circle that Bartow County has seen in the past several years. Most remarkably, she entered the season as a virtual unknown before blossoming as the Wildcats ace. Baker ended up with a 19-7 record, 1.59 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 28 appearances (26 starts). Baker recorded 256 strikeouts against just 45 walks. She showed her mental and physical strength in starting all four of Woodland’s state playoff games. With two more years left to enhance her abilities, Baker has the potential to become even more dominant.
Bella Carnes, Woodland senior — After earning Player of the Year honors in 2018, Carnes saw a slight drop in batting average but posted a nearly identical on-base percentage and slugging percentage in her final year with the Wildcats. Her triple-slash of .412/.472/.588 would be good enough to earn a superlative most years. She drew 13 walks to go with 10 extra-base hits. Carnes was a perfect 17-for-17 on stolen-base attempts, while scoring 26 runs and driving in 13.
Morgan Cooper, Woodland junior — When Cooper stepped to the plate in a big spot, there were two only possible outcomes. She would either pick up an extra-base hit (7 doubles and 4 home runs) or get hit by a pitch (school-record 15). Either way, she was adept at getting on base, slashing .289/.418/.500. Cooper scored 25 times and drove in 11 runs. Her defense in center field continues to be top-notch with her glove and arm combination among the best in the county.
Kendyl Hardin, Woodland junior — Hardin finished with five home runs a year after launching six round-trippers. Her .276/.357/.520 slash line was solid, but she particularly upped her game in region play, posting a .300/.357/.680 line with four homers. Compared to her stellar sophomore season, Hardin cut her strikeouts by 50% and increased her number of walks. The third baseman totaled 25 RBIs and 22 runs, and she seems likely to be among the county’s best again next year.
Ansley Hight, Cass freshman — Hight took the county and region by storm in her first year in high school. Her 31 RBIs led the county, while her triple-slash line of .416/.456/.688 is remarkable for a freshman. She finished with nine doubles, three triples and two home runs. Hight scored 18 runs and drew nine walks. As incredible as Hight’s offensive prowess is, her defense in center field is arguably just as impressive. She’ll be an absolute star for the next three years.
Sadye Johnson, Adairsville junior — Over the first couple of weeks of the season, there was no hotter hitter in the county than Johnson. For the second straight season, Adairsville head coach Amanda Nelson called Johnson the team’s offensive player of the year. Although her five home runs came mostly in the opening stages of the season, Johnson continued to be the Tigers’ most consistent offensive weapon. She posted a .452 batting average and 11 RBIs on the year.
Eryn Lee, Cass sophomore — After bursting onto the scene her freshman season, Lee somehow managed to improve her offensive stats across the board this year. She finished with a .400 batting average, a .505 on-base percentage and a .560 slugging percentage. Lee wound up with 28 runs scored and half that number of runs driven in. Batting in the No. 2-hole most of the season, Lee amassed 30 hits and 15 BBs. She’ll continue to be a key cog for the Colonels moving forward.
Rachael Lee, Cass sophomore — Lee’s toughness proved to be her most endearing quality in 2019. After suffering a broken sternum during travel ball, she left a rivalry game against Woodland after taking a line-drive off the hip. She capped her season with 15 runs scored and the same number driven in. Her slash line of .360/.402/.427 wasn’t nearly as prolific as her freshman marks, but Lee managed an 8-7 record in the circle and a .943 fielding percentage on defense.
Anna Kate McElhaney, Cartersville junior — Remarkably, the younger McElhaney wound up with the exact same batting average as her sister. She even posted a higher on-base percentage, as boosted by 13 walks. Even though 32 of her 35 hits were singles, McElhaney managed to drive in 27 RBIs — triple her 2018 total — and also scored 15 times. After pitching quite a bit in 2018, a crop of freshmen hurlers allowed McElhaney to focus more on offense this year.
Victoria O’Neal, Adairsville junior — O’Neal shined at the plate and in the circle for Adairsville this season — often in the same game. Against Murray County, O’Neal picked up four hits and only allowed three in a complete-game shutout. On the season, she posted a .344 batting average to go with a dozen RBIs. In the circle, she racked up 95 strikeouts in 83 innings. According to Nelson, O’Neal was named the Tigers’ most valuable player for her well-rounded efforts.
Campbell Rogers, Cartersville freshman — One of the key members of Cartersville’s heralded freshman class, Rogers hit the ground running with a .425/.470/.521 triple-slash line. Asked to bunt and play small ball a lot, Rogers only had five extra-base hits and four walks, but her ability to make contact is second to none. She finished the season with 25 runs scored and 15 RBIs. Her defense, though, was arguably even more impressive, as she posted a .952 fielding percentage.
Cio Seigler, Cartersville senior — After a rough opening two weeks, Seigler slugged her way to a .362/.439/.603 line over the final 20 games of the season. Overall, she hit .329/.402/.512 with seven doubles, a triple and two home runs. Seigler wound up with 21 runs scored and 16 driven in. She did everything she could to try to push the Canes into the state playoffs with a key two-run homer to give her team the lead in a Region 5-AAAA tournament win over Chapel Hill.
Alexa Varner, Adairsville senior — Varner was the lone senior on the Tigers this season. She led Adairsville in the lineup and from a leadership perspective. A prime example of the type of player Nelson loves to have in her program, the shortstop earned defensive player of the year honors for the second straight season, posting a .921 fielding percentage. Her bat greatly improved, as Varner wound up hitting .310. She also showed off her speed with six stolen bases.
Morgan Bailey, Woodland senior; Kailey Baker, Woodland junior; McKinley Chada, Cartersville freshman; Ansley Evans, Woodland junior; Megan Gregory, Adairsville freshman; Kylee Hembree, Cass sophomore; Hannah Miller, Woodland junior; Elizabeth Nelson, Cartersville freshman; Hope Short, Cartersville senior; and Kelly Young, Cass sophomore.