Columbia County will always be known as a baseball county. However, the boys might have to start sharing the spotlight, as the county continues to build a solid foundation in girls’ softball.
Sure, they still have a ways to go to catch up to the 21 state championships the county lays claim to, but progress is being made. Of course, Greenbrier won a state softball crown in 2004 and lost in the championship series a year ago. And 2011 is a huge indicator that things are going in the right directions for Evans and Harlem.
Evans has fielded solid teams for years under the leadership of Colette Cassedy, and this year was no different. The Lady Knights went 24-11 and made it to Round 2 of the state playoffs before falling to ninth-ranked Northgate.
Included in their season was a huge win over Greenbrier in the region tournament. The victory derailed the rival Wolfpack’s hopes of a 16th consecutive region title. Of their 11 losses, they fell to Greenbrier twice, AAAAA power Lassiter once, and twice to Northgate.
Cassedy’s program has been a model of consistency. The Lady Knights have had seven consecutive 20-win seasons, averaging 23.4 wins during that stretch. Evans has also made it to the Elite 8 two of the past four seasons, and advanced at least to the second round of the playoffs for four consecutive years.
Harlem, ranked No. 9 in AAA, went 25-9 after losing in the opening round of the playoffs to Eastside. Like Evans, the Bulldogs have had a solid run over the past seven years. In that span they have had five 20-win seasons, including a 27-win campaign and region title in 2007. They have averaged 21.4 wins per season since 2005 under coach Mike Leverett.
And there is Greenbrier. coach Garrett Black has built a powerhouse. As I write, they are preparing for Round 2 of the State Playoffs vs. Union Grove, the top-ranked team in AAAA.
No matter what happens this year, the Wolfpack program has been the class of the county and a premier team in the state for the past 16 years. Prior to this year, Greenbrier had not gone through a season without winning a region championship since the school opened its doors in 1996.
The squad spent much of this season at No. 1 in Class AAAA, but dropped to its current spot at No. 7. The team is 29-6 on the season and with one more victory will have its seventh 30-win season in the past eight years. (They only won 29 in 2009.)
Since its championship year in 2004, Greenbrier has won 258 games. That’s 32.3 wins per season. They are also trying to reach the Elite 8 for an 11th consecutive season.
Senior Casey Rowland, who will play at ASU next year, has had a monster season at the plate. She currently has an area-best 16 home runs and has also driven in 55 runs.
It wasn’t long ago that a few coaches in the county were fighting to get the schools to play fastpitch softball, and now we have several quality programs.