Chloe Middlebrooks had an unlikely path to college softball.
Moments after signing a softball scholarship to Georgia State in a ceremony held last Wednesday at Oconee County High School, the Lady Warriors longtime center fielder discussed her athletic journey.
Before trying her hand at softball, another sport had Middlebrooks’ attention.
“When I was little, I was a gymnast and I really never thought it was possible to become a D-I softball athlete,” Middlebrooks said. “My coaches have made me into the player I am today. I just came to reality once I got older.”
Middlebrooks said she was a gymnast from the time she was 6 or 7 years old. She stopped participating in that sport when she reached 11 or 12.
At that point, softball took center stage.
But it was Middlebrooks at center stage last week, along with fellow seniors Mattie Mentel and Avery Mercer. The trio of players signed scholarships in the OCHS cafeteria.
“I didn't start softball till I was about 11 or 12 and that's when I dropped gymnastics,” Middlebrooks said. “I haven't been playing softball as long as Avery and Mattie have but we've come just as far together.”
There was another tempting offer on the table for Middlebrooks other than Georgia State.
She was recruited by Auburn Universtiy at Montgomery. Even though she enjoyed what that school and softball program had to offer, Middlebrooks elected to attend Georgia State because it is closer to home.
Last Wednesday, Middlebrooks made that decision official when she formally signed to join the Lady Panthers program.
Middlebrooks signed alongside two others, Mattie Mentel and Avery Mercer.
Considering that trio played together for many years on various teams, Middlebrooks said it was only appropriate that they all celebrate such a big moment together.
“It was awesome,” Middlebrooks said. “We have all grown up together and it was just awesome to celebrate this moment together. I know there's other teammates that will celebrate this a little later than we will. But it's great knowing each other at such a young age and now coming to this.”
Middlebrooks excelled during the 2020 season.
She notched 26 hits, the second-best total for Oconee, and six doubles, also second on the team. Middlebrooks homered once and had 14 runs batted in.
Thanks to her running prowess, Middlebrooks led the team in stolen bases (16) and runs scored (29).
Middlebrooks drew nine walks and batted .299 on the season. She had an on-base percentage of .404, a slugging percentage of .483 and a .887 OPS.
Among the Lady Warriors, Middlebrooks had the most total bases with 42 and tied the team high for extra-base hits with 10. She finished with a .978 fielding percentage in center field.
“She's the best center fielder I have ever coached, without a doubt,” Lady Warriors head coach Zack Graham said when discussing Middlebrooks during the ceremony. “She can go get it. She's got a motor. She's the craziest base runner that I've ever known in my life and I loved every second of it. I loved the chances she took and put our team in some awesome situations.”
Thanks in part to Middlebrooks’ individual achievements, Oconee won the Region 8-AAA crown. The team later mounted a deep playoff run and advanced to the Final Four, which was held in Columbus.
That was par for the course when it came to Middlebrooks and the other seniors, who played in Columbus three different times.
“Three out of the four years, we've made it to the Elite Eight,” Middlebrooks said. “This year, Columbus was a little different and it was only the Final Four but we still made it. It's just an accomplishment, knowing that throughout the four years, we've made it to the Elite Eight being underdogs. This was the first year that we won region since I've been here, so it was a really big deal. Finishing fourth this season and third last season was a really big deal. We've come a long way as a team together.”
Middlebrooks has a long way to go before her softball days are over.
She plans to study criminal justice. She has hopes of doing CSI work, joining the FBI or becoming a criminal attorney.
Middlebrooks’ path to that phase will begin soon.
“It doesn't feel as close as it is,” she said. “Next year, we'll all be off at our own colleges. Right now, it doesn't feel real that it's that soon but I can't wait for new beginnings. It's gonna be a good one.”