Athletic tradition can't be bought. At the high school level, tradition is attained through years of sustained excellence.
In Columbia County, the Greenbrier High School softball team has earned its tradition by dominating opponents on the diamond.
The Lady Wolfpack won its sixth straight region championship by overwhelming its foes in the Region 3-AAAA tournament last week at Burke County High School.
Greenbrier opened with a 13-1 win over Thomson, followed with a 9-0 shutout against Lakeside, then capped its title run with a 5-0 victory over Lakeside.
''When these kids put on the Greenbrier uniform, I really feel like it means something now,'' Lady Pack coach Garrett Black said after his team extended its region run to six championships in six seasons of existence.
Black continued: ''You could ask every one of these girls - they're not just putting on a uniform. It's a Greenbrier uniform, and they take a lot of pride in the softball program. That says a lot for the kids.''
In its inaugural season, the Lady Wolfpack won a crown in slow-pitch. Columbia County prep teams switched to fastpitch in 1997, but that didn't slow down Greenbrier.
''I attribute that to hard work, and we've just got tough kids,'' Black said. ''This bunch has worked their tails off this year.''
Greenbrier seniors Eve Motlow, Christina Large, Erica Johnson and Heather Beale have played on four region championship teams, and they say winning never comes easy.
''We just practice every day, basically,'' Beale said.
Motlow says long hours on the practice field have helped the team forge an unbeatable bond. ''We've been through a lot as a team. That's brought us together and we're a family,'' she said. ''We're just closer than we've ever been, and that can only help us.''
After freshman pitcher Kristan Glover finished off her shutout performance in Thursday's finale against Lakeside, Greenbrier still had some work to do.
The Lady Wolfpack was determined to drench coach Black with ice water in a traditional championship celebration. Black wanted to stay dry - he dodged the water cooler, but several persistent players finally found their mark.
Greenbrier (27-4) now advances to the Class AAAA state sectionals in Covington. The Lady Pack will open play Friday, and the tournament will continue Saturday. Lakeside (22-10) earned the No. 2 seed from Region 3-AAAA and also will compete in Covington.
The Lady Panthers opened the region tournament with a 5-0 win over Burke County, then clinched a sectional berth by beating Statesboro 7-6. Pitcher Ashlee Pate nailed down the No. 2 seed by shutting out Statesboro 6-0 on Thursday.
Lakeside's run ended in the finals. Pate pitched well, while senior third baseman Laura Freeman and sophomore second baseman Jamie Lake provided strong defensive support.
But Greenbrier sealed its region title with three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Johnson led off with a single, and Large followed with a base hit. Nikki Smith added an RBI single, then Motlow drove a two-run double to the fence to cap the rally.
After the game, first-year Lakeside coach Richie Carnes offered praise to his only seniors, Freeman and Amanda McGraw, then set his sights on the sectional playoffs.
''Every game we've had, we've learned something,'' Carnes said. ''Tonight we learned something more about Greenbrier and about ourselves. We're going into the playoffs knowing we have a shot to win every time we play.''
At the state sectionals, squads vie for a berth in the state finals in Columbus on Oct. 18-20. In order to advance, teams must win three games before losing two at the sectionals.
Greenbrier has made it to Columbus twice, and this year Black expects the Lady Pack to go back.
''I feel better than I've ever felt going into the sectionals this year,'' Black said. ''I've got a special feeling about these kids that I haven't had in the past. If we keep getting good pitching and playing good defense, we're going to be tough.''
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