BUFORD - In many ways, Ashley Razey's softball career at Buford High closely resembled the Wolves' fortunes over the same time.
Like her team, the senior catcher/third baseman - a first-team All-County selection her first three seasons - was already among Gwinnett County's best, but was still trying to take her game to another level.
The Wolves (33-6-1) accomplished that task by winning the Class AA state championship, due in no small part to Razey, who posted a career season in earning 2007 Gwinnett Daily Post Softball Player of the Year honors.
"I knew my role was I had to get big hits when we needed them and to be a leader for us to win state," Razey said. "I worked on my game a lot and did really well in travel ball with the Georgia Elite Gold. It helped me see pitches better and recognize what was coming."
The work with Razey's summer travel ball team definitely carried over to the high school season this fall as she posted career highs with a .510 average, 10 home runs and 47 RBIs, plus a .961 slugging percentage and a .598 on-base percentage.
But according to Buford coach Tony Wolfe, Razey's biggest improvement was increased patience she showed at the plate with opposing pitchers often attempting to pitch around her.
"She's a very disciplined hitter," Wolfe said. "If you look at her stats a year ago and this year, she's really made strides. Her walks are up. Her average is up. She didn't chance bad pitches very often, and she hit a lot of her home runs with two strikes. It was a case of her waiting deep into the count to get pitches she could hit hard."
She saved her best for the most important part of the season - the state tournament in Columbus, where seemingly everything she hit was a line drive.
That included her biggest hit of the year against the toughest opponent she faced.
Longtime foe and friend and former travel ball teammate Jessica Coan of Greater Atlanta Christian was one of the few pitchers who was able to get her out consistently much of the year.
But in the winner's bracket final at state, Razey connected for a grand slam in the top of the eighth inning to break up a tie game and lift the Wolves to their first victory of the year over the Spartans - a 4-0 triumph that sent them to the championship round.
"She's a great hitter," said Coan, the 2007 Gwinnett Daily Post Pitcher of the Year, of Razey. "She's one of the best hitters I've ever faced. I had her number all year, so she was due. When I face a hitter like that, I know I can't rely on just my pitches. (With) Ashley, in particular, you have to try to outsmart (her), and that's not easy to do."
The next day, she went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and threw out a potential base stealer to lead an 8-1 rout of Berrien County to give Buford its first state title - and the school's first state championship in any girls sport.
Having closed out her high school career on a high note, Razey will now take her skills to the college level, where she will play for Southern Mississippi, which she signed with last week over similar scholarship offers from Syracuse, Nevada-Las Vegas, Georgia and Auburn, among others.
"I kind of fell in love with (Southern Miss') campus (in Hattiesburg, Miss.)," Razey said. "And this is their coach's first recruiting class, and he's know as a hitting coach. There's nothing more I can ask for."
Player of the Year: Ashley Razey, Buford, Sr.
Southern Mississippi signee hit .510 with 10 HRs, 47 RBIs, a .961 slugging pct. and .598 on-base pct.
Pitcher of the Year: Jessica Coan, GAC, Sr.
The Georgia Tech signee went 29-2 with a save, a 0.26 ERA and 452 strikeouts in 212 2/3 innings. She also hit .342 with 1 HR and 19 RBIs at the plate.
Coach of the Year: Tony Wolfe, Buford.
Led the Wolves to their first Class AA state championship - and first state title in any girls sport - in his first season coaching softball.
' Morgan Bullock, Mill Creek, Jr.
20-4, 0.71, also hit .441 with 20 SB and 32 R
' Mandi Burns, Grayson, Sr.
22-5, 0.89, 238 K, 180 IP
' Krysten Connelly, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.
19-7, 1.25, 161 K, 183 IP
' Melissa Higginbotham, Buford, Sr.
18-3, 1.15, 101 K, 1271â "3 IP, also hit .308 with 14 RBIs, 31 R
' Shannon Bear, Grayson, Sr.
.350, 2 HR, 29 RBIs, 35 R, .553 slugging pct., .532 on-base pct., 7 SB
' Hayley Downs, Grayson, So.
.444, 10 RBIs, 38 R, .500 slugging pct., .549 on-base pct., 7 SB
' Hannah Graham, Mill Creek, Jr.
.360, 26 RBIs, 26 R, .928 fielding pct.
' Kacey Martin, North Gwinnett, Jr.
.374, 22 RBIs, 17 R, 6 SB, 9 2Bs, .980 fielding pct.
' Mollie Mitchell, GAC, Sr.
.346, 6 HR, 36 RBIs, .720 slugging pct., .455 on-base pct., 39 R, 21 BB
' Alysha Rudnik, Buford, So.
.380, 5 HR, 43 RBIs, 6 3Bs, 32 R, .636 slugging pct., .445 on-base pct.
' Amberlie Saxton, Mill Creek, Jr.
.480, 8 HR, 39 RBIs, 32 R, 11 2Bs, 4 3Bs
' Gabby Bedard, Peachtree Ridge, So.
.323, 35 R, 25 SB
' Brittany Broome, North Gwinnett, Jr.
.374, 38 R, 38 SB (county record), 4 outfield assists, 5 RBIs
' Catherine Palmer, Collins Hill, Sr.
.344, 2 HR, 15 RBIs, 6 2Bs, 19 R, 4 SB, .969 fielding pct., 6 outfield assists.
' Erin Collins, Collins Hill, Sr.
' Kelly Croxton, Parkview, Sr.
' Kylie Kleinschmidt, Providence Christian, Fr.
' Mary Beth O'Rouke, North Gwinnett, Sr.
' Callie Fernandez, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.
' Courtney Folsom, Parkview, Sr.
' Whitney Holman, Buford, Jr.
' Kelsea Martin, Dacula, Jr.
' Heidi Shape, Norcross, So.
' Whitney Warren, Wesleyan, Sr.
' Julia Westbrook, Brookwood, So.
' Devin Dossman, Mill Creek, Jr.
' Alex Rogers, Mill Creek, Jr.
' Emily Whitaker, North Gwinnett, Sr.