2004 Softball Season in Review

Carrollton, Ga. – May 4, 2004 – The 2004 West Georgia softball season was a strange sight to watch. A team that started the season with aspirations of getting back to the conference tournement went on a roller coaster ride of a season that dashed hopes, then brought them back again, only to fall in the season’s final weekend.

The Braves opened the season with high hopes after the annual preseason Gulf South Conference coaches’ poll placed the team in fourth. A fourth place finish would give the seniors, Joanna Sleek and Lesley Smith, something that had escaped them the year before, a trip to the conference tournament. But as many coaches have said in the past, tournaments are achieved on the field, not on a piece of paper, and the team had a 59-game schedule to contend with.

Albany State was the opener on a sunny afternoon in early February, when the Rams visited Carrollton for a twin=bill. On that day, it wasn’t the veterans that stepped up and took charge, but the newcomers. With one out in the ninth and both Missy Hobdy and her Ram counterpart throwing shutouts, designated player Jessie Wise connected with the first pitch she saw, sending it over the center field fence for a two-run walk-off home run. In game two, the Braves powered their way past the Rams with the freshmen again leading the way. The top three rookies, Wise, Mary Carlisle and Katie Sleek, all had multiple hits in the 17-3 win. The trio combined to go 8-for-11 with seven RBI and seven runs scored in the contest. The rookies were ready to step up and lead.

But those rookies still had to contend with one of the toughest schedules in the history of West Georgia softball. Two weeks later, the Braves faced their first conference foe in powerhouse West Florida. The Argonauts produced a potent attack from all sides, knocking the Braves down 1-2-3 in a three-game sweep. The following weekend was the annual Braves’ Invitational, featuring teams from all over the midwest and southeast. West Georgia went 2-2 against several tough opponents, besting SIU-Edwardsville and a Division I team in Indiana-Purdue University.

After the Invitational, the Braves hit the skids, losing 10 of their 11 ten to tough squads from Florida’s Sunshine State Conference. Of the 11 games, six were against teams in the national top-25 at the close of the season. In all, nine of the Braves’ 34 opponents were nationally ranked during the season and those nine squads made up 21 of West Georgia’s 59 games. The Braves beat one of those opponents, SIU-Edwardsville, 4-3 in the Braves’ Invitational.

The skid stopped momentarily during spring break, as the Braves swept Eckerd in a doubleheader on March 22. But the month of March wasn’t much better to West Georgia than the 5-13 February, as the Braves went 7-15 in March. All the while, those rookies were beginning to gell and working their way up to a nearly wonderful finish.

After being swept by Alabama-Huntsville on March 26 and 27, the Braves began the run that would nearly put them in the conference tournament. Over the final month, West Georgia was 12-11, with four of the 11 losses coming to top-ranked Kennesaw State.

April began with the second Gulf South Conference Crossover tournament. The first was in Tupelo, Miss., and was rained out. The Braves were lucky in that one, blasting Arkansas Tech 7-0 in one of three games played on the weekend. But in the second crossover in Decatur, Ala., the Braves took 2-of-4. This was good news for a team from the much more powerful East division, as each crossover game counts in the final conference standings.

The wins rejuvenated the Braves for the next weekend’s home series with struggling North Alabama. The Lions came into Carrollton expecting to knock West Georgia out completely. Instead, the Braves delivered a counterpunch in Hobdy, who pitched a three-hitter in a marathon 10-inning game one. The Braves took that game 1-0, followed by a 6-3 win in the nightcap. UNA got its revenge on Sunday, besting the Braves 3-2, but the damage was done.

With Valdosta State taking two-of-three from Lincoln Memorial, the Braves next opponent, the Railsplitters were reeling. When they came to Carrollton, that was all the confident Braves needed, as West Georgia produced its first three-game sweep since the conference adopted that format. Hobdy was again brilliant, pitching 18 innings, giving up just two runs on 14 hits while striking out 13 batters. Dani Izatt was equally masterful in her Saturday start, going the distance tossing a two-hit shutout. The stage was set for the final weekend trip to Valdosta State.

The solution was simple, the Braves and Blazers were to face off in three games and the team that won two would be off to Meridian for the next weekend and the Gulf South Conference tournament. Head coach Erika Swanson stuck with her formula of pitching Hobdy first. With a little offensive help, the Braves forced the opener into extra innings. But West Georgia fell victim to the Blazers in the 10th inning, falling 4-3 in the opener. Valdosta turned on the afterburners in game two, blasting the Braves 11-0 to shoot down the UWG postseason hopes.

Hobdy finished the season with a 2.43 ERA to lead the team and had a 13-18 record. She was in the top three in the conference standings in innings pitched, strikeouts and games started. Her 222 strikeouts shatters the record of 121 that she set last season. Her 13 victories also gives her that record as well. The Braves’ other starter, Izatt, was seventh in the conference with 170 innings pitched.

At the plate, Carlisle led the way in conference superlatives, placing herself in the top ten in runs scored (39, 4th), doubles (18, T-2nd), walks (29, 2nd), total plate appearances (215, 2nd) and defensive assists (130, 3rd). The runs scored and doubles were both team records, demolishing the marks Becky Duarte and Jennifer Cagle set in 2003. Wise was another that made her way into the top ten in a pair of conference offensive categories. She was third in the GSC in both RBI with 37 and total plate appearances with 210. Lesley Smith and Ryan Cochran both followed in Carlisle’s footsteps, getting into the top ten in the conference in walks with 22 and 19, respectively. Two other Braves made the conference top ten in the categories of defensive assists and sacrifice bunts. Third baseman Christy Marchan was second in the conference in defensive assists with 158 while Mariann Davis was a huge team player with 12 sacrifice bunts.

Carlisle was the team batting champ with a .291 average. She was also tops in doubles, runs, walks, slugging and on-base percentage. She tied for first in hits with Wise at 53, tied with Katie Sleek in triples with two and equalled Cochran in stolen bases with five. Wise lead the team in home runs with eight, followed by Sleek with four and Carlisle with two.

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