Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- Three goals in a game might be a hat trick anywhere else, but in Lee County it's more like the Hatch Trick.

That's about how often Rachel Hatch scored for the Lady Trojans, who went further in the state tournament than at any time in their program's history. It was a team loaded with talent, but when they needed a goal, Hatch always seemed to be there.

"She just has a knack for scoring,'' Lee County coach Dave Baltenberger said.

That might be the understatement of the year. Hatch finished the season with 33 goals and 12 assists and was an easy choice to repeat as The Herald's Player of the Year in girls soccer. She not only was the most prolific scorer in Southwest Georgia, but Hatch was a leader on the Lee County team that won the region title in a walk, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the school's history.

Just don't ask her how many goals she has scored.

"People ask me all the time, and I don't really know,'' Hatch said. "I don't keep up with it. Everybody thinks I do, but I don't. It's not about how many goals you score. It's about teamwork. It takes the whole team to score a goal. I wouldn't get the ball to score if it wasn't for the whole team.''

And it was a team that looked to her constantly to provide the spark.

"She was the leader of our team, and every team we played focused their defense on Rachel,'' Baltenberger said. "She worked her way past double-teams to score and as evidenced by her 12 assists, she also was able to involve her teammates in the offense as well.''

Hatch might have scored even more, but Lee County, which scored 106 goals this season, won several games by the 10-goal mercy rule, and Hatch didn't play in the first playoff game because she was ill-- a game Lee County won easily.

Her secret?

"She's very fast,'' Baltenberger said. "I don't think anyone whio is any faster than her in the state. She can out run anybody.''

Hatch set school records in track back at Lee County Middle School, where she broke the school record in the 200-meter and 400-meter runs, and also anchored a 4x100 relay team that set a school record. But unlike most states, in Georgia soccer is played in the spring at the same time as track season, so Hatch decided on playing soccer instead of track. It's a sport she's been playing since she was 7.

"I had nothing to do and my mom said I had to play a sport. She wanted me to be active,'' Hatch said. "I liked (soccer) right away. It was fun for me, so I practiced over and over. And as I got older my coaches got better.''

So did Hatch, who isn't only fast, but quick with the ball on her foot. She picked up ball-handling skills long before she became a big-time scorer. In fact, Hatch spent most of her career playing midfield and defense. It wasn't until her junior year that she was moved up to forward, where she could get the opportunity to score. She ripped the net for 30 goals and was named The Herald's Player of the Year in 2009, then came back and had an even bigger year as a senior.

Hatch has that extra sense, that instinctive savvy on the field, and once you mix that with her electric quickness and the right touch, it's a formula that's hard to stop -- or even slow down. Or as Baltenberger puts it: "She knows how to put the ball in the back of the net.''

Hatch signed with Darton, where she'll take her 3.7 GPA with hopes of becoming a physical therapist and play soccer next year. Odds are, she'll a big scorer for the Lady Cavaliers. She played in a scrimmage with the college players before she signed and scored twice.

"I think she will do a great job,'' Baltenberger said. "She's fast, and she's fast with the ball. Not too many people can do that. We knew we could count on her to score. She was a difference maker.''

Just don't mention that to Hatch, who is kind of bashful about the hype surrounding her game.

"I just think it's a team thing,'' she said. "Maybe I'm just in the lucky spot at the lucky time.''

Lucky for Lee County Hatch was in the right spot.