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HERALD ALL-AREA SOFTBALL: Randolph Southern ace Madison Ragan named Player of the Year

Randolph Southern's Madison Ragan was nearly as dangerous at the plate as she was on the mound, belting 10 home runs and finishing the year with an eye-popping 1.390 slugging percentage.

Randolph Southern's Madison Ragan was nearly as dangerous at the plate as she was on the mound, belting 10 home runs and finishing the year with an eye-popping 1.390 slugging percentage.

SHELLMAN — About the only thing left for Madison Ragan on the softball diamond is a state title.

But no one could ever blame her for not winning one.

If there has ever been a player lift her team to new heights, it’s Ragan, who has pitched and hit and led Randolph Southern into the state title championship for the past two years. Ragan’s numbers are mind boggling, but even as impressive as they are, they don’t match her passion and intensity on the field.

Those are just some of the reasons Ragan is The Herald’s Player of the Year in softball.

“She can really throw that ball,’’ said Southwest Georgia Academy coach Tommy Manry, who has been coaching for three decades. “When we played them we had a gun on her, and she was hitting 66 mph consistently — and we clocked her as high at 69 mph. She can pitch.’’

Ragan probably would have won The Herald’s POY award on what she accomplished on the mound, where she went 18-4, including two no-hitters with an 0.58 ERA. At times, it simply wasn’t fair to the other players in the GISA, where Ragan struck out 240 batters in just 129 innings, an average of 1.86 strikeouts per inning.

And she’s only a junior.

Ragan was just as dangerous at the plate, where she batted .684 with an on-base-percentage of .786. She belted 10 home runs and had 19 doubles and five triples and finished the year with a 1.390 slugging percentage in 25 games.

She was selected to the GISA Class AA All-State team for the fourth consecutive year (she first made it as an eighth-grader) and won her third consecutive Region Player of the Year award.

She led Randolph Southern to the Class A state finals as a sophomore, and when the GISA forced Randolph Southern — which has one of the lowest enrollments in the organization — to compete in Class AA this season, Ragan led the Lady Patriots right back to the state championship series.

But this was a different season for Ragan, whose father Rand is the softball coach at Randolph Southern.

“She really came into her own this season,’’ Rand said. “She kind of came of age as a pitcher, and in a lot of ways as a ball player and a person. She kind of came of age because of her consistency as a pitcher, and she has a more mature approach to the game now. She’s a little more serious, and her level of dedication has gone up. I’d say it’s different, it’s a little more focus.’’

Madison said it was no accident and credits her offseason workouts when she admittedly got more serious about the sport.

“I feel like I improved a lot both mentally and physically,’’ she said. “Over the offseason, I practiced a lot more. I used to work out maybe once every couple of weeks, but this year I worked out every day, and it paid off. And I think I did mature this year.’’

Madison, who goes by the nickname “Rocky,” has always been dedicated and has always had a great desire to compete and win — she owns the GISA Class A state record in the discus — but she made a big leap on the mound in 2012.

Her numbers on the mound, which were impressive a year ago, not only sailed into a league of their own this past season, but her velocity and control improved — and she started getting serious looks from colleges.

“She’s getting a lot of interest from colleges,’’ Rand said. “She has had some offers, and one school that has never seen her pitch made her an offer. She’s kind of a hot prospect right now.’’

Ragan said several schools have shown interest, including Georgia Southern, Valdosta State and Florida State, and he added that, “countless junior colleges are interested.’’

Madison’s fastball was recently clocked at a workout at Chipola Community College in Florida, where her signature pitch hit 66 and 67 on the radar gun — and that’s blazing speed for softball, especially among the high school ranks. She still has another year in high school, and the pressure could mount before she leaves Randolph Southern.

Madison doesn’t look at it that way.

“I didn’t expect it at all,’’ she said of the new wave of interest in her. “It’s kind of surprising to me. I don’t think it will be a problem (to handle the pressure and focusing on my senior season). It gives me a confidence boost.”

A big one.

“I don’t feel any pressure. In a way, all this college (attention) has calmed me down,” she added. “I’ve felt pressure since I was in eighth grade to stand out from everyone else. I just wanted to be the best. I wanted to stand out and be different. I put all that pressure on myself. No one else ever put pressure on me. Now I just feel like I can go out and play next year. I (really) don’t feel any pressure at all.’’

She earned the name “Rocky” because she was such a big Sylvester Stallone fan when she was growing up.

“She loved all the Rocky movies and all the Rambo movies,’’ Rand said. “And when she was about 10, she had this big life-size cutout of Sylvester Stallone in her room. That’s when everyone started calling her Rocky.’’

Rocky Ragan knows how to go the distance on the mound, where she has dominated for two years. She had 168 strikeouts last year, averaging 1.7 Ks per inning and a 1.07 ERA while leading Randolph Southern to the state championship series.

“It was a good year for her, an important year,’’ her father said. “She really didn’t start pitching (that well) until last year.’’

But Madison always wanted to play on the diamond.

“When she was 6, 7 years old, she was always wanting to play baseball,’’ Rand said. “She was always saying, ‘Daddy, let’s play baseball in the backyard.’ My son (Miles) played baseball, and maybe that’s why she wanted to play in the beginning. She was pretty good right away, but as far as being a pitcher, she was a late bloomer.”

Madison started pitching when she was 9.

“It was pretty casual at first, and she just really started coming of age as a pitcher last year (as a sophomore at Randolph Southern),” Rand said. “I thought then her future would be as a hitter, but all the offers came, and all these colleges want her as a pitcher.’’

It was that kind of year for Rocky Ragan — a year she will never forget.

“It was a good year for her, an important year,’’ Rand Ragan said. “She really didn’t start pitching (that well) until last year.’’

Madison said it was almost a perfect year.

“It was the best year I’ve ever had,’’ she said. “This was my favorite season until the end. We just didn’t have that fairy tale ending.’’

Herald All-Area Softball Team

Brandi Blount, Lee County, Sr., SS

Why she’s here: Runner-up for POY, she was the leader for the Lady Trojans, batting .309, with 22 runs scored, 20 RBI and eight stolen bases. She struck out only seven times in 97 at-bats all year and was a stellar defensive player at shortstop and earned a scholarship to Valdosta State.

Erin Callaway, Lee County, Jr., P

Why she’s here: Won 11 games on the mound against Lee’s toughest competition and had a 2.59 ERA. She also batted .274 and had a .384 OBP.

Ashley Morris, Lee County, So., CF

Why she’s here: Hit .320, scored 14 runs, drove in 12 runs and had 10 stolen bases, two triples and a home run.

Anna Laine Brock, Sherwood, Jr., P

Why she’s here: Had an amazing 135 strikeouts with just 12 walks in 101 innings and gave up only seven earned runs all year (.048 ERA). She went 9-1 and also batted .375. She was named the GISA Region 1-AA Co-Player of the Year and was named to the GISA AA All-State team.

Lindsey Toneygay, Worth County, Fr., C

Why she’s here: Was Worth’s best defensive player and had a .980 fielding percentage while batting .400 and leading the team with 26 RBI.

Catiria Hall, Worth County, Jr., 1B

Why she’s here: Batted .435 with 19 doubles and drove in 22 runs for the Lady Rams.

Quinnesha Gatling, Dougherty, Sr., C

Why she’s here: Batted .481 with 10 doubles, three triples and four home runs, and she also drove in 29 runs.

Ra’Keta Shelton, Dougherty, Sr., 3B

Why she’s here: Batted .442 with 13 doubles, one triple and seven home runs and also drove in 53 runs.

Takiya Davis, Dougherty, So., SS

Why she’s here: Hit .473 with 10 doubles, three triples and 48 RBI.

Katrese Brown, Seminole County, Sr., SS

Why she’s here: Batted .417 with seven doubles and three triples and had a .525 OBP. She also scored 25 runs and drove in 31 runs.

Erika Roberts, Seminole County, So., CF/P

Why she’s here: Hit .475 and had a .560 on-base-percentage with 11 doubles and a triple, and she also drove in a team-high 39 runs.

Kassi Herring, Seminole County, Jr., C

Why she’s here: Batted .423 with seven doubles, three triples and one home run and had a .536 OBP.

Jessica Helms, Seminole County, Jr., P

Why she’s here: Went 14-2 with two saves and had a 2.12 ERA to help lead Seminole to a fifth-place finish in the Class A state tournament.

Sadie Allen, Baconton Charter, Sr., SS

Why she’s here: Was the Offensive Player of the Year in Region 1-A while batting .400 with six home runs and helped lead Baconton to the Elite 8.

Kendyl Carver, SGA, Jr., CF

Why she’s here: Batted .454, and 23 of her 39 hits were extra-base hits, including 15 doubles, five homers and three triples. She also drove in 32 runs and was named to the GISA Class AA All-State team.

Baylee Everson, SGA, freshman, SS

Why she’s here: Batted .455 and successfully stole in 18 of 19 attempts while driving in 20 runs from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. She also made the All-State team for the second consecutive year.

Allison Warren, SGA, So., P/1B

Why she’s here: Won eight games and posted a 1.62 ERA. She also hit .295 with 26 RBI.

Braylie Blanton, Randolph Southern, Jr., SS

Why she’s here: Batted .438 with a .551 OBP and four home runs.

Parker Rigsby, Randolph Southern, Sr., C

Why she’s here: Made the GISA Class AA All-State team and hit .387 with a .523 OBP.

Morgan Lumpkin, Randolph So., So. 3B/P

Why she’s here: Was the GISA Class AA All-State third baseman. She batted .392 with a .519 OBP and was the team’s best defensive player.

Eden Cunningham, Miller County, Jr., SS.

Why she’s here: Was the GHSA Region 1-A Defensive Player of the Year and hit .427 with a .467 OBP.

Rachel Grimsley, Miller County, Sr., P

Why she’s here: Helped lead Miller to the Elite 8 on the mound and batted .351 with a .452 OBP.

Morgan Mock, Miller County, Sr., CF

Why she’s here: Was one of the top outfielders in Region 1-A and batted .454 with a .527 OBP.

Emily Everson, Sherwood, Fr., P/SS

Why she’s here: Batted .385 and scored 16 runs while driving in 22 runs.

Jamie McPherson, Sherwood, So., C

Why she’s here: Caught the Lady Eagles’ dynamite ace Brock all season and batted .310. She also drove in 23 runs and scored 15 runs.