Madison County’s softball team smashed, hurled, sprinted and slap-bunted its way to one of the best seasons in school history in 2012.
The Red Raiders won their third region title in four years and finished second in the state in Class AAAA, compiling a 34-8 record.
The team fell to Northwest Whitfield in an extra-inning heartbreaker 2-1 on the last day of action in the state finals in Columbus.
Madison County battled the eventual state champions three times in 2012, losing each game in extra innings by one run.
The two met up early in the state tournament, with Northwest Whitfield defeating Madison County 8-7 in extra innings.
But Madison County bounced back, fighting through the loser’s bracket to set up a rematch in the state finals.
It wasn’t easy.
The Red Raiders defeated West Laurens in a dramatic, come-from-behind 2-1 victory to advance to the state finals. The win included numerous clutch performances by the team at the plate, in the field and on the mound.
The Red Raiders’ state title hopes ended abruptly on the last day when Northwest Whitfield’s Bayli Cruse hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Bruins the state title.
Madison County head coach Doug Kesler said the outcome didn’t do anything to diminish his pride in his team.
“I told the girls how proud I was of them,” said Kesler after meeting with the team. “I told them how well they represented themselves, the school, the community and the whole county. They won with class. They are just a great group. They took a very business-like approach.”
In the state finals tournament, Madison County won four of six games, defeating Wayne County twice, Columbus and West Laurens, while losing twice to Northwest Whitfield.
But getting to the tournament in Columbus was a major feat in itself.
The team swept Lanier, then defeated Walnut Grove to win the Region 8-AAAA title — the third state title in four years for Madison County’s seniors.
The Red Raiders defeated LaGrange in the first round of the state tournament in Danielsville, then pulled off a dramatic comeback win in a best-of-three series versus Heritage (Catoosa). Madison County dropped the series opener in Danielsville, then won back-to-back one-run games: 5-4, 9-8.
Madison County’s team members earned numerous individual accolades in 2012. Red Raider junior catcher Ivie Drake was named both the Region 8-AAAA and state Class AAAA “Player of the Year.”
Drake batted .489 with a .917 slugging percentage and .549 on base percentage. She slammed nine home runs, had 48 RBIs, 54 runs scored, 65 hits, 18 doubles, 6 triples, 16 walks and 19 stolen bases.
Drake was also selected to the first-team all state team with teammate Randee Bettis, who led the Red Raiders on the mound with a 14-4 record with five saves and 1.61 ERA. She pitched 135 innings and struck out 104 batters, while allowing 93 hits 53 BB, 54 runs and 31 earned runs.
Pitcher Alexis Damron was selected to second team all state. She finished with a 14-3 record, 1.38 ERA, with 80 strikeouts, 69 hits, 22 walks and 18 earned runs in 91 innings pitched.
Shortstop Bri Carr and outfielder Haley Gordon were selected to honorable mention all state.
Several Madison County players also received Region 8-AAAA honors: Carr, Danielle Lukas and Abby Morgan were named to the region first team. Jessica Allen, Haley Gordon and Jorden Williams were named to the region’s second team. Kaylee Bates received honorable mention.
While Drake was named the region’s “Player of the Year,” Randee Bettis and Alexis Damron were named region “Co-pitchers of the Year.”