After a deep playoff run in the Class AAA state tournament, the Oconee County softball team found itself well-represented on the Region 8-AAA all-region lists.
The Lady Warriors reached the Final Four round of the playoffs and were a couple of wins away from competing for the state title. Their final record stood at 17-12, and they brought home the region crown this year to go with it.
For those reasons, Oconee head coach Zack Graham said he was excited for the success of his overall program, not just those who earned postseason honors.
“You do not make it to Columbus for the Final Four without every player pulling in the same direction,” Graham said. “Every player contributed at some point in the season and every player made the person beside her better every day at practice. I also know that at the end of every season there will be awards and recognition to individuals on every team. I just want to recognize all 15 of our girls, as they all deserve credit for the season they had and things they accomplished.”
Oconee’s first team all-region members are Ashton Aycock, Ava Moon, Avery Mercer, Chloe Middlebrooks, Kate Newberry and Mattie Mentel.
Aycock’s individual highlights include a .307 batting average, 13 runs batted in, three doubles, 60 defensive assists and a .878 fielding percentage.
Moon batted .361 with 16 RBIs, three doubles and a triple. She pitched 73.1 innings and struck out 37 batters while posting a 3.25 earned run average.
Mercer’s batting average was .305 with three doubles and two home runs. She led the team with 220 putouts and had a near-perfect fielding percentage of .996.
Middlebrooks had the third-best slugging percentage on the team (.483). She recorded six doubles, two triples and two homers. Middlebrooks also led the team in steals with 16.
Newberry was the team’s primary pitcher. She tossed 102 2/3 innings and struck out 38 batters while only walking seven. Her season ERA ended at 3.14. At the plate, Newberry had the team’s best slugging percentage (.557) and OPS (.990).
Newberry’s catcher, Mentel, was right behind her in both categories. Mentel slugged .547 to go with a .947 OPS. Mentel homered and had a team-best 23 RBIs. She only had two errors behind the plate.
For Graham, there was no doubting that those players’ credentials qualified them for the all-region first team.
“I am not surprised at all,” Graham said. “Their numbers matched up with all the top stats in our region. Many coaches and fans alike look at offensive numbers to determine a player’s ability. I try to look at both offensive and defensive numbers. Defensively, these six are gold glovers in my book and had awesome offensive stats.”
Four of those players received their first team nods on their way out of the program.
“Ashton, Avery, Chloe and Mattie are seniors and will be greatly missed,” Graham said. “Ava and Kate will be back for 2 more. They are both pitchers as well, so that helps tremendously.”
Oconee’s second team selections were Summer Hawkins and Lucy Hunt.
Hawkins tied with Newberry for most homers on the team (three) to go with eight RBIs and a .813 OPS. Hunt batted .380 and had a .866 OPS with 16 RBIs, tied for second-most among the Lady Warriors.
“The region recognized them for the jobs they did at the plate,” Graham said. “Summer and Lucy split time at [designated player] and Lucy played left field as well. Summer is a senior and will be greatly missed along with the rest of the entire senior group. We will have Lucy back for one more as she will be one of two seniors in next year’s class.
Brinley Baughcum and Sydney Braswell received selections to the honorable mentions list.
Baughcum paced Oconee in walks with 13 to go with 14 runs scored, nine RBIs and a homer. Braswell had 22 singles, second-most on the team, with 12 RBIs and 11 runs scored.
“They did tremendous jobs for us defensively as well as at the plate at different times throughout the season,” Graham said regarding Baughcum and Braswell. “They both also played different positions throughout the year when we battled injuries and quarantine.”
Though Oconee’s season ended before the team wanted, Graham said he was proud of the players’ efforts. He hopes the team can build on this year’s success next season.
“It was a great season and I was glad to be a small part of it,” Graham said. “I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings.”