Greenbrier recently erected a sign over the right field fence to commemorate the 2004 state championship.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
Greenbrier will wear red this season for the first time in school history.
Though the team's official color of green will remain, a giant red bull's-eye will be on the back of every girl to wear the Wolfpack softball jersey.
Coach Garrett Black has found out that is the case when you win a state championship.
Greenbrier, which begins practice Monday, immediately became a hunted team after its resounding defeat of Chapel Hill, 12-0, in the Class AAAA state title game November in Columbus.
"The pressure was on us for eight years to win a state title," Black said. "That pressure is gone. Now, the pressure is to defend the title. We know that every night, every team is going to play their best against us. Everyone wants to say they beat the state champs."
But Greenbrier also has become a target off the field.
The new girl
Westside transfer Austin Long will be one of the pitchers counted on to replace State Pitcher of the Year Kristan Glover. Long transferred to Greenbrier in February. Glover, widely considered the greatest pitcher in Georgia's history, is Tennessee Tech-bound.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
Internet message boards have buzzed since February about a possible recruitment of former Westside pitcher Austin Long, who enrolled at Greenbrier in February.
"There was no recruitment," said Long, who has lived in Evans since her mother purchased a home Feb. 11, according to Columbia County property records. "Greenbrier and Columbia County is a better atmosphere for me academically. The Columbia County school system is a better place for me to be. But softball was also a factor. I wanted to play for a school that has the tradition that Greenbrier has.
"But nobody sat in my living room and asked me to come to Greenbrier. It was a choice that my mom and I came to."
Black said the first time he met Long was at a basketball game when a player introduced him to her.
"I never met Austin before that night," Black said. "That is part of the success, I guess. People try to knock you down when you are at the top. It isn't something that I let bother me, what some upset parents, coaches or kids say on the Internet. I have never recruited, nor will I ever, recruit a player."
On the field
To compound the task of defending the state title and the sanctity of his program, Black must cope with the loss of Kristan Glover - who, statistically speaking, was the greatest pitcher in state history. The Tennessee Tech-bound pitcher won more than 100 games and struck out more than 1,000 batters, becoming the first pitcher in state history to accomplish the 100-1,000 feat. She also didn't allow a run during the final 47 innings of the Wolfpack's title quest, and went 34-1 as a starter.
"It will be tough not to have Kristan out there," said her sister, Amanda Glover. "She was so dominant, and we knew if we got her one run she could carry us the rest of the way. Coach Black knew this day would come. So did we. We are prepared to step up and do what we need to do to win another state title."
Despite the loss of Glover and second team all-state first baseman Kristi Nichols, the cupboard is anything but bare.
Greenbrier returns three first-team all state players, Tiffany Blackburn, Courtney McCladdie and Brittany Leverett, and a pair of second-team all state players, Glover and Jessica Borum.
"Our lineup is scary," said Leverett. "I wouldn't want to face us. You have five of the best hitters in the state coming back. We also have two good hitters in Kayla Adams and Ash Florie that started last season. We will hit the ball this year."
Black said he will count on his offense, which is led by Blackburn's .509 batting average, and his defense to pick up the slack this fall to account for an inexperienced pitching staff.
"I figure we will have to make about three or four extra plays a game defensively, because we won't have the strikeouts that Kristan gave us," said Black. "Both of the girls we will use know they don't need to be the next Kristan Glover."
Replacing a legend
The Wolfpack will rely on Long and sophomore southpaw Kassie Bailey to fill Glover's void. The duo combined to give up just one run in six starts during the Greenbrier Slugfest.
"I just wanted to come in and offer what I could to the team," said Long, who pitched four shutouts in the Slugfest. "But every girl here has made me feel welcome. They have treated me like part of the family. There are absolutely no egos on this team."
Black will rotate pitchers throughout most of the season, but said he would likely go with a clear No. 1 starter at the Brookwood Invitational in late September, just in time for the stretch run. Black has gone with a clear ace for most of the eight years he has coached fastpitch.
"They will be just fine," said Kristan Glover. "Kassie worked real hard last year and I think Austin will do good. They have an unbelievable lineup and a great defense behind them. I know I wouldn't have survived without both of those.
"But they will come through. I fully expect to be watching them in Columbus in October when they go after another title."
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