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SOFTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Illness can't stop Buford's Walters

Daily Post Pitcher of the Year Morgan Walters of Buford hit .606 with eight home runs, 26 RBIs and a 2.152 OPS in the postseason as the Wolves claimed the Class AAA state title. (Special Photo)

Daily Post Pitcher of the Year Morgan Walters of Buford hit .606 with eight home runs, 26 RBIs and a 2.152 OPS in the postseason as the Wolves claimed the Class AAA state title. (Special Photo)

Call her Miss October.

Like Reggie Jackson, Morgan Walters was dominant for Buford during its run to a seventh straight state softball championship.

The senior first baseman/left fielder/designated player was, as head coach Tony Wolfe put it, “a one-person wrecking crew,” as the Wolves rolled to this year’s Class AAA state title, going 6-for-11 (a .545 clip) with four home runs and nine RBIs and a 2.252 OPS over four games.

“She really was in Columbus, and really even leading up to that,” Wolfe said of the 2013 Daily Post Player of the Year. “She raised her game to another level down there and just really put us on her back and carried us.”

Throw in eight other state playoff games, and Walters, who recently signed to play college softball at Missouri, hit a robust .606 with eight homers, 26 RBIs and a 2.152 OPS for the postseason.

But as impressive as those numbers sound, they almost never happened.

After Buford’s second-round playoff sweep of Morgan County, Walters would miss the next four school days battling strep throat and an ear infection.

And even after two doctor visits, plus medication, it was still a question of whether or not she would be able to even accompany her Buford teammates to the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus, let alone play.

A question, that is, to everyone except Walters.

“I was at the doctor the day before we left (for Columbus),” recalled Walters. “I was scared out of my mind I wouldn’t be able to go. (The illness) is mentally and physically draining, but I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of me stepping up and performing for my team. I wanted to step into the spot I was supposed to be in.”

After Buford survived a scare and edged Central-Carrollton 3-2 in the tournament opener, Walters did that and more, hitting a first-inning, RBI single and blasting a grand slam an inning later as the Wolves got their swagger back with a 10-2 win over Ringgold later in the evening.

“After the second-round play (the previous) Wednesday, she was out (of school) Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday sick and went to the doctor twice,” Wolfe. “She got shots and medicine both times, came back to school Wednesday, loaded the bus and went with us Wednesday night.

“It’s really remarkable. I think, at least temporarily, the medicine helped and it kicked in and she got to feeling better, but she’s also such a gamer. She lives for that moment and has that ability to raise her game in the biggest moments. Not everybody can do that, but she certainly did.”

Indeed, Walters got seemingly stronger as the weekend progressed, belting two homers in Buford’s 14-2 rout of Oconee County in Friday’s late winner’s bracket final and adding another bomb to help close out the Wolves’ title in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Central-Carrollton.

But as hot as Walters was during the postseason, she was a constant contributor throughout the entire season, finishing with a .485 average with 17 homers, 60 RBIs, 50 runs scored, seven doubles, 11 stolen bases, 25 walks.

Still, even Walters admits it took her a while to fully feel comfortable.

Having transferred to Buford after leading Mt. Pisgah to the Class A (Private) state title as a junior last year, Walters knew she was joining a well-seasoned, tournament-tested team that had won without her, and had several big stars like all-county selections Bria Bush, Niki Cook, Tessa Daniels, Jordan Deep and Remington Hasty, to name but a few.

However, she credits her teammates with helping adjust to her new situation quickly and feel as a big part of the team.

“I definitely wanted to step up and prove myself,” Walters said. “I wanted to come in and not only be a player, but be a leader.

“Just being the new kid and being around people I didn’t know was tough. But being around the girls and how great they were to me, not just as players, but as people, and how great the coaches were really helped me a lot.”

And it didn’t take long for Wolfe and his staff to notice how much of a team player Walters had become, and how well she fit in with her teammates.

“From a skills standpoint, we’d heard about all she’d accomplished (at Mt. Pisgah and in travel ball),” Wolfe said. “What we didn’t know was what an amazingly unselfish player she was, and how hard she played. I tell people she plays like Pete Rose. I guess I’m the only one (around the team) that really remembers Pete Rose, but she runs out walks, she hustles out every ground ball, and she was really good for our program in terms of the effort she brought to the program, not only in practice, but in games.

“For a player of her caliber to kind of have to share left field and first base and (designated player), and really not have a certain position, could’ve not been a good thing, but she handled it so well. She’s amazingly unselfish and just came in and wanted to fit into our program, and did it in an awesome way. She just plays so hard. … It’s really a joy to watch somebody play the way she played.”