The Dougherty High softball team, which had never been to the state playoffs before last year, is following up its success in 2011 with a heck of a season in 2012, complete with a 10-game winning streak. But the Lady Trojans aren’t just playing to make more history at Dougherty, they’re also dedicating the season to their coach, Essance Satterfield, who died in December. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — There are teams that want to win, teams that need to win and teams that think they’re supposed to win.
Then there’s the Dougherty High girls softball team.
“We’re not hungry to win a region title. We’re starving for one — just starving,’’ said Ra’Keta Shelton, a junior third baseman who is hitting over .500.
Dougherty has five players hitting over .400 — Shelton, Quinnesha Gatling, a senior catcher, Takiya Davis, a sophomore shortstop, Reshonda Taylor, a sophomore first baseman, and Dominique Anderson, a sophomore second baseman.
These kids hit and run like the wind.
But that’s not what this team is all about.
It’s more about heart than heat on the mound, a team with more drive than a screaming liner and more passion than anyone has ever seen on the softball diamond at Dougherty.
Driven by the loss of a beloved coach and fueled by being disrespected for years in the region, the Lady Trojans are making history at Dougherty.
Dougherty’s coach Essance Satterfield died in December after a fatal car accident, and the kids have dedicated this season to her.
“She was like a second mother to us,’’ Gatling said Tuesday. “If we ever needed anything, she was always there. She had a presence. She was always happy. Of course, we dedicated the season to coach Satterfield.’’
Her death broke hearts at Dougherty.
“It just made me want to play better, play harder,’’ Davis said. “That’s why when we played Worth, I put it all over on Twitter, ‘My game tonight goes out to coach Satterfield.’
“Worth was one of those team we never could beat. I know coach Satterfield always wanted to beat them.’’
And then it happened.
Dougherty knocked off Worth County’s powerhouse, 7-3, and everyone in the Region 1-AAAA race took notice.
But the kids at Dougherty were just getting started. The win against Worth County on Aug. 30 was their third in a row, and they haven’t slowed down. The Lady Trojans have a 10-game winning streak and look better every day.
The team batting average during the 10-game streak is just above .400, and when the Lady Trojans get on base they fly around the diamond. They have stolen more than 60 bases during the streak while being thrown out just three times, and they have also hit 13 inside-the-park home runs during the impressive run.
They have simply burned up the bases.
That’s partly because the coach and the kids are still burning over the way the region treats them.
“I really got (ticked off) at the region meeting,’’ said coach Ty Hayes, who was the assistant softball coach for eight years before taking over this season. “The coaches told us they wanted to play us just once instead of twice in the region schedule because they wanted to play better teams in non-region games. That was disrespectful to our young ladies. It got pretty heated in the meeting. I was still mad when I left.’’
His kids haven’t forgotten it.
“That was so disrespectful to us,’’ Gatling said. “We were already pumped up to win this year for coach Satterfield, and that just added to the fire — and we turned it into a wild fire.’’
They’re rewriting history at Dougherty.
“When I got here eight years ago, they hadn’t even won a game — and most of the games were two or three inning run-ruled games,’’ Hayes said. “When we went to the state playoffs last year that was the first time in the history of fast-pitch softball that Dougherty went to the playoffs.’’
Now the kids want a lot more.
“We know what we’re capable of,’’ Gatling said. “We’re capable of beating anybody. We want to win the region title and keep going. We want to win state.’’
The Lady Trojans just have two region games left. They play Americus-Sumter on Thursday and face Cairo on Sept. 27. Dougherty is 4-1 in the region, and the lone loss was to Crisp County, a perennial power. But it came on opening day back in August.
Dougherty lost its first three games, before ripping off the 10-game winning streak, but it wasn’t because the kids weren’t ready to play. The Lady Trojans simply didn’t have a pitcher.
De’Shaara Brunson, one of three seniors on the team, didn’t join the team until after the third game.
“She had some personal things to deal with at the beginning of the year, but when she joined us we became a different team,’’ Hayes said.
It shows. Brunson is 9-0 on the mound, and her presence changed the look on the diamond.
“When De’Shaara came back, it put everyone in their right position,’’ Taylor said. “We had players out of position because they were pitching, but when she came back Takiya could just play shortstop, Ra’Keta could just play third and Quinnesha could just catch. Everyone was in the right position and there were no holes anywhere.’’
And the Lady Trojans took off on their streak with a confidence they had never had before.
“When De’Shaara came back, we knew the season was in our hands,’’ Shelton said. “It was right there like a big apple, just waiting for us to take a bite out of it!’’
Shelton is one of the few kids on the team who played softball growing up. She also starts for Dougherty’s powerhouse basketball team along with Gatling and Davis. Most of the softball team is made up of basketball players.
“The passion at Dougherty is for basketball,’’ said Hayes, who is an assistant coach with the boys basketball team at Dougherty. “But I knew these girls could play softball and win. They’re all basketball players playing softball, but they can win at softball. They finally believe they can play. They are buying into it, and they are working hard.’’
The Lady Trojans have even overcome an injury during the streak. Outfielder Brittany Fowler is out, but Aquavia Lovett stepped in and joined Amber Ward and Sha’Shun Johnson in the outfield, and the streak stayed alive.
Dougherty athletic director Donald Poole said the softball team’s success is a matter of a lot of factors coming together.
“It’s a combination of the players wanting to win and the coach,’’ Poole said. “They’ve got some pretty good players. But you have to have players doing the things they need to be doing to win games. It’s an all-out effort. They have a feel to win.’’
They’ve changed the way others feel about softball. No one even talked about softball before at Dougherty, but now the players are hearing from kids at school all the time, getting congratulated in the hallways.
“I think we’re making a change at Dougherty High School,’’ Gatling said. “People are looking at softball differently.’’
Shelton then added: “People used to say how we were always losing. My freshman year, I think we got run-ruled almost every game. But now people are telling us how we are doing great. We’re a different team. We are the most disciplined team of any softball team, and we are serious about playing softball.’’
The winning streak is serious because at 10-3 with two games left in the regular season, this will be the best record any fast-pitch team has ever had at Dougherty.
Gatling smiled and explained why the team was winning: This season has more meaning than ever.
“We’re winning because we work hard and because we have great athletes at Dougherty,’’ she said. “And we’re winning because I think coach Satterfield has put a little angel in all of us.’’