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Lawrence a game-changer for the No. 2 Spartans

Staff Photo: John Bohn Sierra Lawrence, a softball player at Greater Atlanta Christian School, is an early Michigan signee. Lawrence is also a respected basketball player.
 Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School shortstop Sierre Lawrence throws to first base during a recent game against Buford. 

Staff Photo: John Bohn Sierra Lawrence, a softball player at Greater Atlanta Christian School, is an early Michigan signee. Lawrence is also a respected basketball player. Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School shortstop Sierre Lawrence throws to first base during a recent game against Buford. 

A sure hit, sent sizzling toward the gap at shortstop.

A sure hit, gobbled up by the glove of Sierra Lawrence.

The senior, bound for Michigan next fall, pivots nearly 180 degrees to make the toss to second.

This time the balletic move isn't quite in time. But just seeing Lawrence make the lightning grab in the first place, turn in a balletic sweep and create a play is more than most could do.

"Even to make that close is an unbelievable play," said Judy Tenney, her coach at Greater Atlanta Christian. "I've seen her do some things, be deep in the hole and turn and throw. You can never assume she isn't going to make the play. It's safer to assume she is going to make the play."

A red cloud of dirt wafts up and Lawrence is covered in it.

She'll make more plays as the game against rival Buford goes on. In the field and at the plate.

The next day she hit home runs both right- and left-handed.

"I've played with her and against her, and I can say I honestly look up to her as a player," said fellow senior Krista Gustafson, who was at Parkview before transferring to GAC last year. "She gives everything she has.

"You know when she gets on base, she's scoring. She's got that speed."

Lawrence is one of the top players to come through the Spartan program, which has a fine softball tradition, and is among the best in the state.

"Sierra is a handful," said Buford head coach Tony Wolfe, whose team has won the last four Class AA titles. "She's unbelievable. She can do everything on a softball field.

"She's obviously a great offensive player. She hits it, she hits for power, she runs the bases so well, uses her speed. Then she's a game-changer on defense. She takes hits and turns them into easy outs."

Lawrence has already broken the Spartans' home-run record and is hitting a gaudy .620 through 27 games this season. A week ago, it was up to .643.

She played all 161 innings and has just five errors (three fielding and two throwing) at a position where the heat is usually turned way up. She has more assists (46) than anyone else on the team.

"She's easily to me one of the best three or four players in Georgia," Wolfe said. "In any classification. I have a lot of respect for her."

"I love to watch her play -- when she's not playing against us," he added with a grin.

Lawrence has 31 RBIs so far this year as GAC continues to pile up wins. Of her 44 hits, more than half are for extra bases, including 11 homers. She also has 37 stolen bases. She's only been caught once. She has a .702 on-base percentage and has struck out just four times this year.

"Wow, I tell you what, this year has been a breakout year for her," Tenney said. "Last year she played great, but this year she is playing like the game is in slow-motion. It's been amazing to watch.

"And she has been determined to have a tremendous year and be a leader on this team. That's what she's doing."

The Spartans, ranked No. 2 and one of the favorites as the playoffs approach, start four sophomores along with the core of seniors.

"She is very devoted to this team, very committed to helping them improve as well," Tenney said. "We had a great end of the year last year and I think that kind of fueled her fire a little bit in high school, to try to win one before she left. So she's playing like it."

Lawrence, who began playing softball when she was just 3 -1/2, worked hard between her junior and senior seasons to get better.

"My hitting has really improved from the end of last season to this summer," Lawrence said. "It was something I worked a lot on. It was just repetition."

Committed to Michigan as a sophomore, the Wolverines are getting more than they bargained for in Lawrence -- a talented basketball player who was close to picking that over softball as an eigth-grader.

Even when she started playing, softball wasn't Lawrence's first choice.

"I didn't really like it," she said. "I was doing ballet at the same time. Then after my next year, I liked it and started getting more into it.

"I just loved that it's a slow-paced game, but then on defense, it's fast. And I just love spending time with my teammates. That's part of it, too."

Still, she was ready to quit to play basketball while she was still at Snellville Middle School.

Getting better made a big difference in her outlook.

"My eight-grade summer I just improved so much in softball, it just captured my heart," Lawrence said.

Thinking about playing it after high school was a major factor, too."I guess I really made the decision freshman year when I started to decide about college," Lawrence said.

That began a long process of picking a college, a process in which her mom, Suzette Lester, and uncle, Terry Lester, were instrumental.

"It a lot of visits," Lawrence said. "A lot of money. A lot of hard work for my mom. Her and my uncle, they're like my biggest fans, they went everywhere with me."

The coaches, environment and education opportunities led her to commit to Michigan. She can officially sign next month and will head to Ann Arbor next fall.

"It'll be a big change," Lawrence said. "But I'm ready for it."

A big change for the game-changer.