Collins Hill's Calli Star (9), Laine Simmons (3), Jordan Adicks (11) and Shelly Mooney (20) receive the championship trophy after defeating Harrison 7-1 in Game 2 of the Class AAAAAA State Softball Championship at the South Commons Softball Complex. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
COLUMBUS — Gwinnett County’s two dynasties continued with championships by Collins Hill and Buford in their respective classifications at the State Softball Tournament this past weekend at the South Commons Softball Complex.
Buford’s seventh consecutive championship by taking the Class AAA title with a 4-0 win over Central-Carrollton on Saturday and Collins Hill winning the state’s highest classification for the fourth time in the last five years by outlasting Harrison in the Class AAAAAA finals only enhanced what is already an impressive legacy for each program.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce, who has guided the Eagles (29-6) to state titles in two of his three seasons as head coach during the program’s current run, which includes a fifth title in the last nine seasons. “Every year is a new year. We address every team as a new team, and we’re excited about our 2013 team coming in and bringing home some (more) hardware.”
Buford coach Tony Wolfe expressed similar sentiments about the Wolves’ (37-1) seven straight state title, which ties them for 12th in Georgia High School Association history in all sports.
“Every year, it’s a new group of kids,” said Wolfe, who has guided the Wolves to a championship every season since taking over in 2007, following Saturday’s win. “We’re so happy for them getting to experience it. We’re also so happy for our program and for our community to experience it. They enjoy the streak, and we’re happy we were able to continue it for them.”
However, the significance of both the Wolves’ and the Eagles’ titles go even beyond what they mean for each program.
They also secure the legacies of each team’s outgoing senior class.
Three of Buford’s four-member senior class — Niki Cook, Noah Sudderth and Brittney Hellemn — became the fourth straight to leave the program as they entered it — as state champions.
And Sudderth couldn’t think of a better way for her and her fellow seniors to go out.
“It means absolutely everything,” said a tearful Sudderth after Saturday’s championship game. “It’s wonderful. The other three have meant a ton, but we had so much to play for (this season). We had so much behind us. Being my senior year, this is the perfect way to go out.”
While the fourth senior, first baseman/outfielder Morgan Walters, was only in her first season in the Buford program, the championship wasn’t any less satisfying for her, especially with the way she dominated at the plate during the tournament.
Walters was, as Wolfe put it, “a one-person wrecking crew,” going 6-for-11 (a .545 clip) with four home runs and nine RBIs and a 2.252 OPS over the Wolves’ four games.
“It’s so hard to describe,” said the Missouri-committed Walters, who helped Mt. Pisgah to the Class A (Private) state title last year before transferring to Buford last summer. “It’s something to be so thankful for. It’s really rare to be around such a great group of girls. So, it’s a blessing to be a part of.
“This weekend, since it was the end of my high school career, I wanted to finish on a strong note. And just having that mentality really pushed me to do even better.”
While Collins Hill’s senior class of Calli Star, Laine Simmons, Jordan Adicks and Shelly Mooney will leave with one less ring, it doesn’t mean the third one it secured for its career Saturday is any less sweet.
In fact, it may even be moreso with the Eagles gaining back the title after coming up short by finishing third a year ago.
“We always have to fight (to win),” said Star, who was 1-for-3 with two key RBIs in Collins Hill’s title-clinching 7-1 win over Harrison on Saturday. “But we always come out strong. … It was rough (not winning) last year, but we didn’t doubt one minute this year.
“(The program) is definitely growing stronger. We keep getting better and better every year.”
But what may have been most unique about both teams’ titles this year was the conditions under which they won them.
Rain on Friday forced both teams to play late into the night on each of the first two days of the tournament.
And in Collins Hill’s case, being forced into the if necessary game by Harrison — which survived a loaded AAAAAA field that also included Brookwood and North Gwinnett — made for three long days that the Eagles were able to endure.
“It’s hard to do when you come off the field the (previous) two nights at almost 1 (o’clock) in the morning, and the girls don’t get to bed until three, and then to get up and compete at a high level,” Pierce said. “So, I’m very excited for our girls.”