Jenny Shepherd's biggest struggle as a hitter occurs before she steps into the batter's box.
Questions build in her mind. She thinks back to her last out and wonders what she needs to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Before games, reassurance comes from her father, Gordon, and Evans High School coach Colette Cassedy. They tell Shepherd to do her thing, to throw her hands to the ball and let the rest take care of itself.
"Once I stop thinking about it, it comes natural," the junior said.
Shepherd is The Columbia County News-Times All County Softball Player of the Year, in part because of that ability at the plate.
She hit .563 this season, set a state record with 61 RBI and tied another with 16 home runs.
Batting numbers alone aren't what earned Shepherd a first-team All State nod and the title of Class AAAA Player of the Year. She can also sling it.
Shepherd's ERA was 0.87. She recorded 181 strikeouts in 97 innings.
Shepherd spent the early part of the season rehabbing a trapped nerve in her throwing arm. The injury required physical therapy twice a week and regular stretching and ice.
She returned strong. Shepherd and teammate Laura Brown combined for 25 of the Knights' 27 wins.
Shepherd helped lead the Knights to the Region 3-AAAA title. Her 58 hits put her in the top 10 in the state for single-season highs.
"I pitched her different than anybody else and she still hit it out," Harlem High School coach Mike Leverett said.
Shepherd said she practices each Sunday for her travel-ball schedule, which begins in January. She also is part of the Knights cheerleading squad and plays on the tennis team in the spring.
"Most of my time is devoted to softball," Shepherd said. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Shepherd set herself apart with huge numbers at the plate in addition to her performance on the mound, but there were valid arguments for some of the area's other top players.
Greenbrier shortstop Kaila Hunt responded to the Wolfpack's bump to Class AAAAA by batting .500 and scoring 45 runs. She also was one of the area's top defensive players.
"The caliber pitching we saw day in and day out, for Kaila to hit .500, that to me was a great accomplishment," Greenbrier coach Garrett Black said.
Harlem's Alana Dyson was a threat to reach base any time the ball was in fair territory. The slap hitter batted .505 and stole 31 bases.
Dyson's natural position is in center field, but Leverett had to use her in the infield much of the season because of depth issues.
"If I could have had her in the outfield the whole time, we might have won ... the region," Leverett said. "But I didn't have a choice."
In the end, Shepherd's case was the strongest. Her swing has been honed by her father since she first picked up a bat.
She might sometimes fear it will abandon her, but it hasn't yet.
"Just go up there and swing," Cassedy said. "That's all we pretty much tell her. Everything else will come through."
'The Columbia County News-Times' All County Softball Team
P -- Katie Tracy, Jr., Greenbrier
A second-team All State selection for Class AAAAA. Recorded 200 strikeouts with an ERA of 0.949 and opponents hit just .155.
P -- Laura Brown, Sr., Evans
A second-team All State pick for Class AAAA. Pitched seven no-hitters with nine shutouts and posted an ERA of 0.88. Named a 2008 South All Star.
1st base -- Brittnie Harrison, Jr., Evans
One of the top defensive first baseman in Region 3-AAAA.
2nd base -- Ashlyn Masters, Jr., Greenbrier
First-team Class AAAAA All State pick batted .422, with nine home runs and 26 RBI. Feared hitter was intentionally walked 22 times.
Shortstop -- Kaila Hunt, Jr., Greenbrier
Joined infield-mate Masters as a Class AAAAA first-team selection. Batted .500 and scored 45 runs. One of the area's top defensive players.
3rd base -- Jenny Shepherd, Jr., Evans
News-Times Player of the Year set the state's RBI record with 61. Tied the state record for home runs with 16. As a pitcher, struck out 181 with a 0.87 ERA.
Catcher -- Ashley Waites, Jr., Harlem
Batted .297 with three home runs and 25 RBI. Managed two pitchers who had no previous varsity experience.
OF -- Alana Dyson, Sr., Harlem
One of the best all-around players in the area was a Class AAAA first-team selection. Batted .505 and stole 31 bases.
OF -- Jasmine Butler, Sr., Greenbrier
Second-team All State pick for Class AAAAA. Slap hitter batted .291 and scored 27 runs.
OF -- Liz Kelligan, So., Greenbrier
Joined Masters and Hunt as a first-team All-State selection. Slap hitter batted .317 with 11 RBI.
Evans outfielder Jessica Mitchum, Sr.: .300, 11 RBI. Greenbrier pitcher and designated hitter Savanah Coon, So.: .306, 3 HR, 22 RBI. Evans shortstop Heather Raborn, Sr.: .270, great arm and glove. Greenbrier third baseman Lauren Masters, Fr.: .272, 23 runs scored, 15 RBI. Lakeside second baseman April Heard, Sr.: .292, 5 doubles, 8 RBI. Lakeside outfielder Kathleen Early, Sr.: .294, HR, 10 RBI. Evans catcher Kayla Cates, So.: Caught all but three games for the Knights. Greenbrier catcher Stephanie Rhoden, Jr.: .284, 9 RBI
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