Worth County’s Haley Ellis batted .516 with 46 hits in 31 games and 46 RBI, along with nine HRs, 12 doubles and three triples this past season.
Some players can change a game. Others can change a season.
Haley Ellis helped change a program.
Even in a game like softball or baseball, where statistics are kept on every pitch that’s thrown, it’s impossible to measure the impact Ellis had on Worth County softball.
“She changed everything here,’’ said Russell Beard, who coached softball for Ellis’ first three years at Worth before handing the program off to Suzanne Kluball and taking over as the school’s athletic director this year. “If anyone deserves the player of the year, it’s Haley.’’
The Herald agreed, and that’s why once again Ellis was named the 2011 Player of the Year in softball. She was the runner-up for this award as a freshman and again as a sophomore, and she ran away with the Player of the Year award a year ago as a junior.
Ellis and her twin sister, Heather, an All-Area shortstop, along with all-area players Lauren Potts and Kimmy Lee, turned Worth County into a force on the diamond. Worth County went 4-14 the year before the Fearsome Foursome showed up. The Lady Rams then won 92 games over the last four years.
Haley, a tough-as-cactus catcher, wasn’t just the straw that stirred the drink, she was the tornado in the heart of a Worth County storm that made the Lady Rams a powerhouse.
“She took us from being an OK ball club to being recognized in the state,’’ Beard said. “She took us from being a team that could win 10-to-14 games to a team that could win between 20 and 30. She put us on the map. Everyone knew who Worth County was, and everyone knew who Haley Ellis was.’’
They did. Opponents, even teams Worth played from other areas of the state in the playoffs, had a simple game plan when they played the Lady Rams: Try to stop Haley.
“She made everybody better,’’ Beard said. “She made the players on her team better, and she made players on the other team better because everybody always said, ‘If we can get her out, we can beat you.’ Fortunately for us, not many people could get her out.’’
Even with every team trying to pitch around her, Ellis still torched the ball this season. She batted an amazing .516 with 46 hits in 31 games, and she knew how to make every hit count, driving in 46 runs. She belted nine home runs and rapped out 24 extra-base hits, including a dozen doubles and three triples. She finished with a .989 slugging percentage and a .521 on-base percentage.
And Worth County didn’t just play a competitive GHSA schedule that included solid Region 1-AAA teams from Cairo and Crisp County, the Lady Rams faced powerhouse teams out of their region, and even stepped up two classes to face Class AAAAA teams such as Lowndes, Tift County and Valdosta, the largest schools in South Georgia.
“People who have seen her play know she’s the real deal,’’ Beard said. “She hit everybody we played, and we’ve played a lot of good teams the four years she has been here. She hits everybody, and she hits everybody hard.
“Her line drives are scary,’’ then added Beard, reaching for some hyperbole to make his point. “If the third baseman is playing in and she hits a line drive down the line, if the third baseman doesn’t catch it, it might kill her. She hits it that hard.’’
Ellis’ home runs are usually monster shots. Worth’s home park in home-run friendly, but it has little effect on Ellis, who rips drives well beyond the fence. Fans like to back up their pickup trucks behind the left field wall and watch the games from the beds of the trucks — ala impromptu bleachers. And when Ellis nails one, she sends it sailing over the left field wall — and the trucks. She hit 22 home runs over the last two seasons.
Ellis once hit a line drive so hard that the ball hit the center field fence, bounced off the wall and skipped almost all the way back to the infield. Ellis had to settle for a single.
She plays the game hard. Playing on a right leg that has gone through three knee surgeries in her high school career, Ellis still stole seven bases in seven attempts, doing everything she could to help her team. She could have taken it easy and played in the infield, but Ellis put pressure on herself and her leg every day, squatting behind the plate.
“Catching is what I love to do,’’ said Ellis, who has never complained about the pain she went through. “That’s where I want to be. It’s a key position. I like the feeling that I’m in charge and have an impact on the game.’’
She has built such a reputation for having a cannon for an arm, teams simply don’t run on her.
“People ask about her defensive statistics,’’ Beard said. “I tell them, ‘Teams around here don’t dare to run on her.’ The thing about Haley is she played hurt the last three years. She’s as tough as they come.’’
Ellis skipped surgery last year and played in pain most of the season and then had surgery at the end of the softball season. She came back to play a full season this year.
“I really didn’t have an option,’’ she said. “If I hadn’t played my junior year, I don’t think I would have gotten a college scholarship.’’
Haley and Heather both accepted softball scholarships to play at Armstrong Atlantic in Savannah, and she said at her signing ceremony they couldn’t imagine not being on the diamond together.
The foursome of Potts, Lee and the Ellis twins were as close as they could be, and that’s what Haley said she will remember about her unforgettable career at Worth County.
“We’ve been playing softball together since we were in fifth grade. We spend so much time together we didn’t have the option. We had to get along,’’ she said with a laugh. “The bond we have is incredible. And we were such a good team. We don’t hit bloopers. We hit shots.’’
She leaves Worth County, however, with some sadness.
“We didn’t win region this year, and we didn’t get to state,’’ she said. “But we helped Worth County get better. I just always wanted to be the best player I could be, and we all felt that way. We wanted to be the best we could be and to make Worth County the best it could be.’’
2011 Albany Herald All-Area SOFTBALL Team
Madison Ragan, Sophomore RHP, Randolph Southern
Why She’s here: Runner-up for Player of the Year, she batted .736 for the season with nine homers and 35 RBI and had an on-base percentage of .842. She made the GISA All-State team after leading Randolph Southern to the Class A state finals on the mound, where she had a 1.07 ERA and 168 strikeouts, averaging 1.7 strikeouts per inning. She threw two no-hitters and three one-hitters. Only struck out once all year — her final at-bat in the championship game.
Bailey Ponder, Senior, RHP, SGA
Why She’s here: Without a doubt, she is the best pitcher in SGA history and leaves the diamond owning all 18 pitching records at the school. She led the Lady Warriors to the GISA Class AA Elite 8 and finished the season with a 14-3 record and a 0.91 ERA, despite battling back and leg injuries. She threw eight shutouts and two no-hitters this season and ends her career with an unbelievable 500 strikeouts, 58 wins, 29 shutouts, 76 complete games and six no-hitters. She was a first-team Class AA All-State player for four years.
Heather Ellis, Senior, Shortstop, Worth County
Why She’s here: Batted .457 with three homers and 11 doubles while driving in 28 runs. She stole 15 bases, scored 47 runs and played brilliant defense at shortstop. Earned a scholarship to Armstrong Atlantic, where she will play alongside her twin sister and two-time Player of the Year Haley Ellis.
Kimmy Lee, Senior, Infield,
Why She’s here: Batted .459 and belted 10 home runs. She drove in 29 runs and scored 52 runs. She had 21 extra base hits, including four triples and she was a terror on the base paths, stealing 23-of-23 bases.
Lauren Potts, Senior, Infield and RHP, Worth County
Why She’s here: Made the move to the mound to help her team, but made her biggest contribution at the plate, where she batted .365 and belted nine homers. She also had 12 doubles and drove in 37 runs.
Natalie Shiver, Senior, Catcher,
Why She’s here: Was the Region 1-AAAA Defensive Player of the Year and named to the All-State team. She batted .483 with a home run and 22 RBI and led the team with 42 hits, including four doubles and two triples. She earned a scholarship to Mercer.
Hailey Scott, Junior, Shortstop, Lee County
Why She’s here: Hit .303 with four doubles and two triples and played stellar defense all season.
Brandi Blount, Junior, Third Base, Lee County
Why She’s here: Hit .304 with a home run and 11 RBI and played excellent defense all season.
Alana McCook, Freshman, Infield, Randolph Southern
Why She’s here: Hit .320 with a .480 on-base percentage and helped lead Randolph Southern to the GISA Class A state finals before being named to the All-State team.
Brittany Holbrook, Senior, Catcher, Randolph Southern
Why She’s here: Was the defensive anchor for the team and batted .391 with 25 RBI.
Jenna Kitchings, Sophomore, Shortstop, SGA
Why She’s here: Led the team with 33 stolen bases in 34 attempts (she overslid the base after stealing second in the one time she was caught). She batted .476 and scored an amazing 36 runs in 21 games. She made the all-region team and made the GISA Class AA All-State team.
Baylee Everson, Eighth Grade, Center field, SGA
Why She’s here: Batted .516 and stole 31 of 32 bases and drove in 26 runs from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Her coach Tommy Manry says she “is the best eighth grader I’ve ever seen.’’ She also played great defense in center field for the 17-4 Lady Warriors. She was named to the all-region team and to the GISA Class AA All-State team.
Anna Laine Brock, Sophomore RHP, Sherwood Christian
Why She’s here: Had another remarkable year, making the GISA All-State team for the third year in a row. She finished the season with a 0.97 ERA and struck out 62 batters in just 36 innings while walking just five batters. She pitched two perfect games and one no hitter. She allowed only five earned runs all year.