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BEST OF THE BEST: Introducing the 2018 All-TCN softball team
Shelby Harpe
In more ways than one, Social Circle's Shelby Harpe, our All-TCN softball player of the year, was the strength of the Lady Redskins' Class AA state championship team. -photo by Gabriel Stovall

COVINGTON, Ga. -- With several NCAA Division I prospects, including a few Newton County area middle schoolers and freshmen who are making noise on the college recruiting scene, softball has seen a true rise in popularity nationally and locally over the years. 

Here in the Covington area, that’s been no exception. 

From the 2017 season where the Eastside Eagles won a region championship and punched their tickets to Columbus, to the 2018 campaign that saw the Social Circle Lady Redskins take home its first ever softball state championship, to several underclassmen who seemed poised for major things, the popularity and skill of the game locally has grown hand in hand. 

That said, this year’s 2018 All-County Softball team was not easy to choose, primarily because of the heft of talent spread across the area. We include Social Circle in our mix, which truly rounds out the talent. And with two of the three Newton County Schools System teams (Eastside and Newton) making state tournament appearances — and Alcovy missing by just a game — it shows that not only was the 2018 season a solid one as far as softball talent goes, but the future also looks incredibly bright.

Without further adieu, here is the 2018 All-TCN Softball Team 

Co-Coaches of the Year: Alcovy’s Amanda Lamb and Social Circle’s Audra Thomas. Thomas, of course, for piloting her team through a Region 8-AA championship season and Class AA state championship run in a bracket that featured several teams from the Lady Redskins’ region that they had to beat again. And Lamb, despite it being her first season, guided the Lady Tigers to a 13-12 finish, which was a 9-game improvement in the win column from last season. It also marked the first winning season at Alcovy since 2015. 

Alcovy softball coach Miranda Lamb looks on at her team's performance during Tuesday night's in-county matchup with Newton. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

Player of the Year: SR Shelby Harpe, Social Circle. The senior was an absolute force for the Lady Redskins, en route to their first ever state softball title. As a pitcher, she recorded a 20-4 record with 179 strikeouts and a 1.24 ERA in 140.2 innings of work. But she also dominated at the plate with a .487 average, 22 RBIs, 46 runs scored and four home runs. Her play won her Class AA all-state pitcher of the year and Region 8-AA player of the year honors. The senior recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Austin Peay next year.

Pitcher of the Year:  JR Kailey Rusk, Eastside. The Kennesaw State commit led Eastside back to the state tournament, although the Lady Eagles fell just short of another Region 4-AAAA crown and back-to-back trips Columbus. Rusk finished the season 10-7 with a 1.82 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 132 innings pitched. She was also the team’s home runs leader. 

Eastside pitcher Kailey Rusk added 10 more strikeouts to her career total after eclipsing the 500 career strikeouts milestone last Thursday against Woodward Academy. - photo by Brett Fowler

Co-Freshmen of the Year: FR Natalie Ray, Eastside; FR Hayden Pearson, Newton.  From just pure stats to immediate team impact, it was next to impossible to separate these two freshmen standouts. Ray captured Player of the Year honors in Region 4-AAAA, while Pearson was named a first-team performer in a stacked Region 8-AAAAAAA. Pearson’s main work for the Lady Rams was in the pitching circle where she recorded a 1.28 ERA and threw 69 strikeouts in 130 innings while compiling a 15-9 record. Meanwhile, Ray hit .432 with seven doubles, two triples, 17 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and a .944 fielding percentage in centerfield. 

Hayden Pearson
Newton freshman pitcher Hayden Pearson turned in a tremendous season as a part of a stellar freshman class area wide. She, with Eastside's Natalie Ray, was named The Covington News' Freshman of the Year. -photo by Gabriel Stovall - photo by Gabriel Stovall

ALL-TCN First Team

Mariah Williams, Newton — One of the county’s most productive offensive players. Batted .459 with two triples and eight doubles, along with 32 stolen bases, 23 runs and 10 RBIs.  

Gwyn Lee, Alcovy — Junior was second in the area in batting average (.506) as a junior. Only had three strikeouts on the seas and turned a double play. Early favorite for 2019 Player of the Year. 

Jessica Owens, Social Circle — A strong candidate for Player of the Year as well with her .508 batting average, team-leading 37 RBIs and three home runs. A huge cog in the Lady Redskins’ Class AA state championship machine.

Laci Thompson, Alcovy — Third baseman with arguably the stickiest glove in the county. Hit .463 on the season and caught almost everything that came her way.

Alcovy softball coach Miranda Lamb called her third baseman, Lacey Thompson (8) a "vacuum," due to several impressive grabs she made down the third base line against Newton Tuesday night.

Kendel McAuliffe, Eastside — Solid at second base for the Lady Eagles. Hit .339 with 10 RBIs and a .909 fielding percentage. 

Dani Fairey, Eastside — The Emmanuel College-bound first baseman and pitcher spent most of her time on the bag this year. Her .956 fielding percentage was stellar. Fairey will look to pitch primarily in college.

Jordan Rittenbacher, Eastside — Was a team-leader in RBIs with 20 while batting close to .400. Tied for team lead in homers with two.

Ty’Liyah Hardeman, Newton — Super impressive sophomore season. Batted .373 with 17 RBs, 2 home runs and a whopping 26 stolen bases. Definitely a future potential POY talent in the making.

Lexi Atkinson, Social Circle — As savvy as they come behind the plate, and only a sophomore. Hit .438 and was second on the team with 31 RBIs. Her two triples tied with Alexa Wykoff for the team lead.

ALL-TCN Second Team

Alysee Dobbs, Eastside — Dobbs’ impact goes beyond the stats. Filled in at shortstop after spending first two years behind the plate. Leadership for this year’s squad is unquestionable.  Tied for team lead in homers with two.

Corley Thacker, Alcovy — Versatile player who’s parlayed her abilities into a scholarship at Gordon State College. Played multiple positions for the Lady Tigers while batting .447. 

Allyriah Russell, Newton — Third baseman who drove in 20 runs while knocking a pair of triples and five doubles. 

Ty'Liyah Hardeman
Newton sophomore Ty'Liyah Hardeman will be one of the top returning players in the area, come next year. -photo by Sydney Chacon

Lexie McDonald, Alcovy — Another in what was a deep class of freshman standouts across the county. Coach Amanda Lamb calls her a “softball natural.” She went 8-4 in the pitching circle while maintaining a .254 batting average and taking on first base for the first time. 

Aubrey Garrett, Social Circle — Two of her three homers will probably be the most memorable hits in Social Circle softball history for some time to come. One in particular, a walk-off, three-run slam, helped secure the Lady Redskins’ title game berth. 

Kaitlyn Neely, Newton — Steady player for the Rams who was one of coach Tucker-Smith’s most dependable players. tallied a 14 runs, 8 RBIs and four doubles with a .328 batting average. 

Natalie Ray
Eastside's Natalie Ray came through big for the Lady Eagles Tuesday night against Walnut Grove with both her bat and her glove. -File Photo

Emma Swider, Social Circle — Her .406 batting average doesn’t tell the full story. A great place hitter with decent power. 

Jada Brown, Eastside — A freshman outfielder who showed a consistent bat with a .429 average and 11 RBIs. 

Ava Anglin, Eastside — Solid sophomore campaign. Talented, rangy left fielder who’s bat became more dependable as the season went along. 

Presleigh Sorrow, Social Circle — Joined up with sister, Peyton to provide a dynamic spark to Social Circle’s offense with her .400 average 

Honorable Mention: D’Myia Jackson, Newton; Hannah Owens, McKenzie Rodgers, Alcovy; Social Circle; Emily Jacobson, Social Circle; Hannah Dempsey, Social Circle; Janee Bellamy, Alcovy; KeLana Gibson, Alcovy; Lanie Knight, Alcovy.