TIFTON — Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College had a pretty good 2019 on the softball field and overall, there is not much for head coach Jennifer Walls to be unhappy about this summer.
She’s been on her honeymoon. Before taking off for that, Walls’ Fillies flipped a 17-31 record in 2017 to 41-16 this spring. They won the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association championship with an 8-0 thumping of Georgia Military College and advanced to their first NJCAA national championship tournament since 2002.
That run was mainly driven by sophomores. Combined with the departures of a handful of freshmen, the Fillies will have just three players who suited up for them in 2019. ABAC will be much younger in 2020, but Walls is hoping tradition will help.
“With this young group,” said Walls, “we can instill in their minds what is expected. The freshmen will have to buy in.”
The bad news about the departures is that GCAA Player of the Year Taylor Layfield has decided not to play her sophomore system. “We wish her nothing but the best,” said Walls.
ABAC’s returnees are Braxton Hill, Baylor Brown and Courtney Savignano. Brown and Hill were regulars for the 2019 season, in the infield and at catcher, respectively. Walls said she would be looking for leadership from the trio. Hill will provide consistency behind and at the plate. She hit .261 during the season and her 31 RBIs were second on the squad behind Layfield.
The trio’s experience will be bolstered by a transfer. Kati Mills is coming over from West Georgia Tech, where she went 6-7 with a 3.67 ERA as a freshman.
“We are lucky to get Kati,” Walls said.
More pitching help will be coming in from freshmen Bailey Spires and Katie Royals.
Spires hit .348 as a senior at Telfair County, according to stats input on MaxPreps. In the circle, she went 18-7, tossing four shutouts, two of which were no-hitters. Spires had 121 strikeouts in 145.2 innings. Royals, who hails from Atkinson County, pitched the Lady Rebels to five of their seven wins and saved another. In 88.1 innings of work, only six batters recorded base hits against Royals.
The two already have a familiarity on the field as Atkinson and Telfair both play in Region 2-A.
Ragen Lasseter is making the move to ABAC from Tift County High, where she was an infield standout. “I’m very excited to have her,” said Walls.
Walls listed other standout freshmen coming to campus.
Alex Lastinger of Gwinnett County-based Collins Hill is an incoming outfielder.
Hill will get help behind the dish from Karli Williams (Jeff Davis), a player Walls describes as “a beast.” Williams’ MaxPreps stat line showed a healthy .443 average in 2018 and 52 RBIs in 37 games.
Behind the scenes, ABAC’s softball schedule will be slightly different next season, much in the same way the Stallions will be affected on the baseball field. West Georgia Tech dropped its athletic program at the conclusion of the 2019 baseball campaign.
Walls said WGT’s departure won’t change the dynamic of the schedule. The top four teams will still advance to the GCAA end-of-season tournament and the teams will play one another the same amount of times during the regular season.