Worth County softball stars Heather Ellis, front row, center-left, and her twin sister Haley Ellis, front row, center-right, are joined by the Lady Rams’ softball team and head coach Suzanne Kluball, front row, far right, and former coach and current A.D. Russ Beard, front row, left, for the Ellis’ signing with Armstrong Atlantic University on Wednesday.
SYLVESTER -- Worth County baseball coach Will Smith milled about Wednesday inside the school's gym, at times grinning from ear to ear and beaming with pride as he watched two of his former softball stars --Heather Ellis and her twin sister Haley -- sign college scholarships.
At other moments, he looked liked he was losing his best friends.
"I'm sure gonna miss them," Smith, who coached the girls all through middle school, said while shaking his head. "You just can't replace two girls like that."
And that's music to Armstrong Atlantic University's ears.
The Lady Pirates, a Division II program in Savannah that will enter the 2012 season as the reigning Peach Belt Conference champs, picked up a couple of gems Wednesday when the dandy duo from Sylvester signed on the dotted line.
"We were a package deal," Heather said with a laugh. "Every time a coach would come talk to us, momma would say (to them), 'If you're going to offer her, you better offer the other one. You're not going to get (one of them) unless you get them both.' "
The Ellis twins wouldn't have had it any other way.
"We didn't think we wanted to go somewhere together at first, but then we realized we didn't want to be apart," Haley said. "We've been playing ball together since we were real young ... and I couldn't imagine not having her as my shortstop."
The duo first picked up gloves around age 8 -- but softball wasn't their first love.
"When they first started out, they wanted to play baseball -- and they did until they were about 10," Heather and Haley's mother, Marie, said. "We had to make them play softball."
Added Brady Ellis, the twins' father: "I think as soon as we saw them play, we knew there was something special here. It's been an experience and a lot of years of hard work has gone into this point. I'm not sure what else to say -- I'm just real proud right now."
As Brady and Marie should be.
The Ellis girls started turning heads as middle schoolers when their team won a big out-of-town tournament, leaving at least one opposing coach in awe.
"The coach came up to me afterward and said, 'Why in the world are you playing those two varsity girls on this JV team?' " recalled Worth County A.D. and former softball coach Russ Beard. "I said, 'Man, those girls aren't high schoolers and they're not on JV. They're just in the eighth grade."
The Ellis twins capped their senior season by leading Worth to a 21-13 record and a second-place region finish. Haley, the team's catcher whose big bat was only second to her cannon for an arm, followed up her Player of the Year season as a junior with more amazing numbers at the plate: .516 batting average, 9 home runs, 12 doubles, 3 triples and 49 total hits in just 31 games played. She said her favorite memory, though, came as a junior when she blasted three home runs in one game.
"Schools would call me and talk about how awesome her hitting stats were, then they'd ask why she didn't have many defensive stats," Beard began, "and I would just tell them, 'Because teams around here know better and don't dare try to run on her."
Heather, meanwhile, also stood out at the plate for the Lady Rams -- batting .463 with 3 HRs, 3 triples and 12 doubles in 34 games -- while making highlight-reel plays in the field at shortstop.
"Every softball practice we had this year was like an oasis with them. It was just a great season and I feel lucky to have had the chance to coach them," first-year Worth County coach Suzanne Kluball said. "(And I knew when the season ended) and they started looking at colleges, you couldn't have separated them if you tried."