LEESBURG -- No one knew what to expect when Lee County's Lindsay Tompkins took the mound this year for the Lady Trojans.
After all, Tompkins, a junior, was replacing last year's Herald Player of the Year for girls softball and Lady Trojans ace, Brittni Dennison.
"I think there was some doubt from a lot of people whether I could lead," said Tompkins, who is this year's Herald POY after finishing the Lady Trojans' Elite Eight season with a 26-6 record and .240 ERA on the mound, while also batting .308 with 7 RBI, and one double. "But I knew I could handle it and I think it made me rise to the occasion and want to prove I could."
Lady Trojans coach Lynn Avery was sure glad she did.
"We had a lot of talent on this year's team and I'd put us up against anyone around here," Avery began, "but without Lindsay, we don't make it as far as we did this season."
And while the traditional powerhouse Lee County program fell short of winning the school's first state title after going 24-2 in the regular season -- powered by Tompkins, who pitched all but two of those games, including 11 shutouts -- you won't find her bemoaning the team's disappointing end to an otherwise amazing 2009 campaign.
If anything, it serves as motivation going forward.
"We didn't want to make it that far and not win, of course," Tompkins said. "But we played our butts off and just came up short. Now, with all the seniors leaving, we just need to try to come out next year (and redeem ourselves)."
Tompkins wasn't even on the radar for Lee County a year ago, playing mostly on JV and watching with great interest as Dennison steamrolled her way through the Lady Trojans' opponents.
"I really learned a lot from her, not necessarily from anything she said to me or advice she gave me, but just how she led the girls and handled herself; how she was like a second coach Avery out there on the mound," Tompkins said. "And I knew that would be my role this year."
Tompkins started the year 8-0 before Lee County ever lost its first game, coming in a controversial 5-4 loss to Columbus on Aug. 31.
After that, it would be nearly a month a half before she tasted defeat again.
Lee County ended the regular season 26-3, falling in the region championship in a massive upset by Jones County.
After that loss, Avery said Tompkins "put the team on her shoulders" and carried them into the state playoffs -- and back to the Elite Eight.
"The (state quarterfinal game against South Effingham) is what sticks out to me in terms of her highlight," Avery said. "Here we were, having this great season and we lose the first game of a best-two-of-three, and it's about to all be over. You just saw it in her eyes: She wasn't about to let the season end."
Tompkins pitched the next two games, throwing a shutout, 4-0, in Game 2 and then escaping with a 3-2 win in the deciding contest.
"That was definitely my highlight -- and hopefully there's more like that to come," Tompkins said. "I just think after this season, the pressure is still there to lead, but now I've been through a year of it and I know what's expected of me. I plan on making sure we're all playing in the offseason and come out ready to go even further next year."