By HORACE HOLLOMAN
After finishing 6-6 last season, Trinity Christian School’s softball team didn’t necessarily know what to expect coming into the 2015-2016 season.
The Lady Lions returned seven of the team’s nine starters from last year, but TCS also lost their team MVP and a couple of senior leaders.
Needless to say, Trinity Christian’s 11-1 finish to the season may have taken a few by surprise. Now, after shattering expectations, the Lady Lions have their eyes on the prize of a Georgia Independent Christian Athletics Association state championship.
Going into today’s state tournament, held at the Upson County Softball Complex in Thomaston, Ga., the Lady Lions are the No. 2 overall seed in the eight-team tournament.
“Heading into the season, me and Brian (Griswold) agreed that we would be competitive. We had a lot of unanswered questions. I believe that this year we over achieved,” said TCS softball coach Keith Kibler. “I think that this team has the ability to finish and they seem to seize challenges. Of course, they’re very coachable. Our pitching has improved and we have a lot more depth.”
Kibler said this year’s version of the Lady Lions is one of the best teams he’s had the pleasure of coaching.
Considering the teams that Kibler has coached over the last decade, that’s pretty high company.
In 2006, TCS won a GCAA state championship to go along with a region title. The following year, the Lady Lions were GCAA state runner-ups and made a Final Four appearance in 2008.
This year, the Lady Lions have just four upperclassmen on the squad—two seniors and two juniors. The rest are underclassmen.
“I think these girls are really enjoying it. Now the bar has gone up a little bit. All and all, this team is really loose and relaxed out there. They seem to be having a lot of fun,” said assistant softball coach Brian Griswold.
Some of the Lady Lions’ fun may come at Griswold’s expense. Team captain Lauren McNure said the players have a friendly competition to see who can hit Coach Griswold with the most balls during practice throughout the season.
Hitting Griswold gives you a point. Whoever has the most points at the end of the season wins, explained McNure during a practice Thursday.
Just one of the many ways this team bonds together.
“We are a very serious team at times, but most of the time we’re having fun and messing with the coaches. We like to pick on Griswold,” said McNure. “We love the coaches. The coaches are actually the reason I joined this team. My sister told me that the coaches make the team.”
McNure said she was a little concerned with how the season would pan out, but after seeing how the younger players stepped up, she said she has no qualms about Trinity Christian’s future in softball.
“Our ninth grade girls have really stepped up and taken the position of the seniors we graduated last year. That’s been great. I was not expecting what they’ve been able to accomplish,” McNure said. “It’s been an amazing season.”
Trinity has an all-region catcher in Gabriella Lowrance along with skilled seventh-grade pitcher Megan Lee. Outfielders Holly Smith and Lauren Knight have given the Lady Knights a boost this season as well as ninth-grade pitcher Grace Hall.
Senior shortstop Eliana Difuntorum said early on she could tell the team would be competitive.
“I was pretty nervous at the beginning of the year I was a little nervous, but after a couple of weeks you could see from practice it was going to be a pretty solid team,” Difuntorum said. “I’ve waited for a really long time for this. This year, our region games have been perfect. Absolutely perfect. I think we’ve worked really hard and I think we deserve it. I think we’re ready.”
The Lady Lions’ quest for a state title begins with Harvester Christian Academy at 4 p.m. today, followed by a game with Holy Ground Baptist Academy.
Saturday, the Lady Lions take on New Creation Christian Academy. Semi-finals are set to begin at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, with the championship game scheduled at 4 p.m.
“We’re never stressed out. We’re more like a family. We’re all really close, way closer than we should be,” said Difuntorum, laughing. “I don’t want to be prideful, but I don’t think we have much more work to do. The coaches have us well prepared. Our original lineup is unbeatable. Our catcher never lets anything get by her, our third baseman is only in 10th grade. Most of our outfielders are in ninth and 10th grade so there’s a lot of room for us to improve over the years.”