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Local softball stars help lead Eagles
GS Softball
Former Southeast Bulloch star Delanie Thames lines up at shortstop for Georgia Southern against College of Charleston on March 13 in Statesboro. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Recruiting local talent may seem like a slam dunk, but if the player isn’t producing and the coach doesn’t play them things can get pretty loud from the stands.

That is something Georgia Southern softball coach Sharon Perkins hasn’t had to deal with as her local players are producing.

Vidalia’s Bailey Holland has notched seven wins on the mound, and freshman Kelsey Harper from ECI has started 19 games.

The most impressive local duo this year has been pitcher Alana Barnard, and shortstop Delanie Thames. The former Southeast Bulloch teammates have made a huge impact on the Eagles’s success as they finished the season with their best record ever in the Sun Belt conference.

“When you bring in local kids they really want to be there, and usually are invested in the school,” Perkins said. “Delanie and Alana have both done great this season. They also bring a lot of people to watch their games and that is a huge plus. For both of them to be underclassmen it’s exciting to see that they both have room to grow as well.”

In her second season on the team Barnard is currently second on the team in wins with an 8-4 record. She is also second in ERA with a 2.81 mark and has 52 strikeouts in 79 innings.

“She is a fiery competitor,” Perkins said. “She played at a high level in travel ball and you can see her continue to mature. She has bought into the program and what pitching coach Mary Beth Dennison has her doing. She is tough on herself, as the good ones are. Sometimes we have to remind her to give herself a break, but you like that from a player.”

Thames is making a run for the Sun Belt All-Freshman team as her .265 average is fourth on the team. She’s tied for second in doubles, is third in home runs and her .459 slugging percentage is second on the team.

“She is just a great athlete,” Perkins said. “She played multiple sports in high school and I think that has helped her. She has a great attitude and has done anything we have asked her to do. She’s started primarily at shortstop, which is rare for a freshman, but when we asked her to move over to third for a game, she did it with no complaints. She has speed and power and is a solid defender, so even if her bat is off a bit she’s valuable in the lineup.”

Barnard had surgery on her pitching arm in April of 2022. She was able to battle back to earn her first collegiate victory less than a year later. With a couple of years of the Eagle weight program under her belt she feels stronger than ever.

“I missed a lot of time the fall of my freshman year and it took a little while for me to get back to being comfortable and strong on the mound again,” Barnard said. “This fall was the first time I really felt like myself again. I never really lifted weights in high school, but since I have been here the weight program has been amazing. I have really seen my body transform and I am getting so much more on my pitches from my leg strength as well as my arm. It’s all made me so much more comfortable in myself and how I can perform.”

Thames had to deal with her own shoulder issues misses a year of softball her junior season. She came back and was named region player of the year her senior year. Highly recruited out of high school Thames chose Georgia Southern for many reasons including reuniting with her high school teammate and being able to have her family and friends come watch her in the stands.

“Even if this wasn’t where I am from it just feels like home here,” Thames said. “The coaching staff and the girls on the team have been so welcoming. I knew a few of the girls because I played travel ball with Bailey Holland and Emma Davis, and of course me and Alana have been playing tother since we were little kids. The whole Brooklet community has been great coming out to our games and it makes you feel so relaxed knowing they are all pulling for us.”