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SOFTBALL: Indian Creek eighth-grader commits to UGA
Lauren Burnett is flanked by UGA associate head softball coach, Tony Baldwin, left, and Lu Harris-Champer, the Bulldogs’ head coach. - photo by Submitted Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Tim Trowell had a lot to say when speaking of the talent that is Indian Creek eighth grade softball player Lauren Burnett. 

Burnett recently committed to play collegiate softball at Georgia — a feat that, even in the world of softball where Power Five-caliber talents can get snapped up by colleges as early as in their ninth grade, is incredibly impressive. 

But Trowell, Burnett’s Atlanta Vipers travel ball coach, perhaps gave the best synopsis of Burnett’s ability by talking about what she couldn’t do — yet. 

“She can hit, she can throw, she can defend,” Trowell said. “She’s a five-tool player. The only thing she doesn’t do is pitch. But if you give her three months, she’d probably figure out how to do that too.” 

Trowell said that to Tony Baldwin, UGA’s associate head coach. But Georgia head coach Lu Harris-Champer was already convinced. They’d been talking with Burnett for about a year, and the relationship was such that when it came down to it, the soon-to-be Eastside freshman chose the Bulldogs over LSU and Florida. 

For some, Burnett’s youth may raise eyebrows when it comes to her making a college commitment, but Trowell has few, if any, concerns. 

“Typically I wouldn’t let an eighth grader on my team commit,” said Trowell who is in his fifth year with the Vipers organization. “But every kid is different. She’s different. She’s that half of one percent kind of player, if you know what I mean.” 

And Trowell has been around softball long enough to recognize such rare talent when he sees it. He’s coached a total of nine years, including seven at Chapel Hill High School. He’s tutored some of the best softball players Georgia has to offer, like Tennessee freshman Ashley Morgan, a Chapel Hill grad and the 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year. 

He saw it in Burnett when she was a Vipers opponent rather than a teammate. 

“We were playing against her, not last fall, but the fall before, and there were like 20 scouts sitting back there,” Trowell said. “She goes up, youngest kid on the team, hits the ball like 230 (feet) out, and everybody just looked like, yeah. She’s got it.” 

At 5-foot-10 and about 130 pounds, Trowell says Burnett “looks like she’s 18 years old,” but he also noted that she’s also got the maturity to match. 

“She’s so much more mature than her age,” he said. “She’s got the talent, you know. You see so many who have the talent, but then you talk to them and say, ‘They’re not gonna make it.’ That’s not Lauren. She has the ability, but the work ethic too. She’s hitting balls on the weekend while other girls her age are spending the night with friends. And this isn’t just something she’s doing. She’s got goals that go way beyond college.” 

Such goals include playing on the USA Olympic Softball team and even professionally. 

“She works hard at it,” Trowell added. “The time and effort she puts in is special.” 

Trowell says he considers himself “fortunate” to be able to work with a player like Burnett. But he’s quick to say that Burnett isn’t the only talented Covington-area softball player he’s dealt with. 

In addition to Burnett, Trowell says another eighth-grader heading to Eastside next fall, Natalie Ray, may be just as good. 

“She’ll probably be the next one to commit,” Trowell said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to be talking about her commitment in another month or so.” 

Ray’s sister, Caitlin — now a redshirt freshman at Georgia State — was a four-year starter at Eastside who pitched for a team that won 22 games and came up just one game shy of a Columbus berth during her senior year. 

“Lauren and Caitlin are like best friends,” Trowell said. “They hit together. They do everything together.” 

The younger Ray has several Power Five schools interested, including Florida State, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. Trowell has also worked with current Eastside pitcher, and recent Kennesaw State commit, Kailey Rusk. 

“All of those girls, they’re the kind of players that schools want to look at and want to recruit early on,” Trowell said. 

That’s exactly what Georgia did. He said the Bulldogs began talking with Burnett as a seventh grader, which was no shock to Trowell. 

“Lauren’s always played up, so they got the chance to see her maybe a little sooner than other players,” he said. “But we knew from the beginning. I told her parents to get ready because the recruiting attention and everything is going to come fast. But Lauren was ready for it and handled it. It helped that in the end, she kind of knew exactly where she wanted to go and that school knew that they really wanted her.” 

Next fall, Burnett and Ray will join, and likely immediately contribute, to an Eastside team returning all but one senior from a squad that won back-to-back Region 4-AAAA crowns and earned its first trip to Columbus in seven years.