Randolph Southern softball eyes run at state title

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SHELLMAN -- Those three-hour softball practices at Randolph Southern are working.

The girls may not be fond of them, but there's no denying the results.

"We don't like it, but..." senior Lindsay Whatley said Monday before fellow senior Amber Boyett completed her thought, "It got us to where we are now."

Where the Lady Patriots are now is in the GISA Class A state playoffs, hosting a second round playoff series today against Briarwood. Randolph Southern (8-3), which got a bye in the first round, is the No. 1 Class A team in the state.

Briarwood (10-10) is a No. 2 seed, making for a decent second-round playoff matchup.

"It's a hellacious draw," Randolph Southern head coach Rand Ragan said. "Briarwood is the state runner-up (from last year) and preseason favorite to win state. If we have to play them, we might as play them now."

Ragan, in his first year as the Lady Patriots' head coach, led them to their first region title since the school went to fast pitch softball a decade ago. Randolph Southern started 3-3, losing games to Class AA playoff teams, before going on a five-game tear to end the season and finishing with a perfect 6-0 region record.

Ragan and assistant coach Mike Boyett did all that as volunteer coaches. Ragan, a self-described "softball fanatic," has also studied the biomechanics of hitting and pitching and coached most of the team at the junior varsity level before taking the job this year.

Both coaches' daughters play on the team and have helped lead the turnaround from bottom of the cellar in the league to region champs in one season. Those long practices and starting team workouts almost two months earlier than in years past led to the 180-degree flip, say the Lady Pats' two seniors.

"We worked pretty hard during the summer," said Amber Boyett, who provides power in the middle of the lineup to go with an on-base percentage of over .600.

"I just knew we had it this year," Whatley added. "We just had to put it together."

Madison Ragan is the statistical leader on the team as a freshman. She hit .501 in the regular season with a .720 on-base percentage and has four homers -- ridiculous numbers as a ninth grader.

"I guess," Madison said nonchalantly when asked if those numbers were correct.

She's also the team's pitching ace, winning the majority of the games, including a 14-strikeout performance and a four-inning no-hitter.

Madison will start Game 1 of the best-of-three series today starting at 11:30 a.m. It'll be her first playoff experience and first playoff game for Randolph Southern in three years.

"I'm more excited than I am nervous," said Madison, who played last year on varsity as an eighth-grader.

Rand Ragan plans to start eighth-grade pitcher Madison Langford in Game 2, which follows the opener. If the two teams split, the third game would also be played today and would likely end at sunset more than seven hours after first pitch.

One of the coach's goals headed into the season was to see all his hitters' averages raised 100 points. Almost all have done it.

"I figured we'd be pretty tough to deal with if we did that," Rand said.

Whatley saw her batting average not just jump, but skyrocket from .125 to .480 in one season. Other key hitters -- Parker Rigsby, Brittany Holbrook, Alana McCook and Gabi Jackson -- have also seen average jumps.

With those results, the occasional three-hour practice has become more tolerable.