Madison Ragan, winner of The Herald’s Player of the Year award in softball for the second straight season, led the Lady Warriors on the ride of a lifetime in 2013, guiding Southwest Georgia Academy to an undefeated regular season and cementing her title as the best softball player in Southwest Georgia.
The moment Madison Ragan saw the picture, she knew.
After spending months during the summer of 2013 looking for the perfect school to transfer to after Randolph Southern closed, Ragan knew in an instant that she chose correctly.
All it took was that one picture to tell her she had found a new home.
Hours after going public with her intention to transfer to Southwest Georgia Academy, she clicked over to her new school’s website and saw a picture of herself with a message welcoming her to the Damascus campus.
“Right then I knew I made the right decision,” she said. “It was a picture of me in my uniform, and it said something like, ‘There she is all dressed and ready to play.’ That’s what reassured me I made the right decision.”
Ragan’s arrival in Damascus ended up working out just fine for the SGA softball team, too.
Winner of The Herald’s Player of the Year award in softball for the second straight season, Ragan led the Lady Warriors on the ride of a lifetime in 2013, guiding SGA to an undefeated regular season and cementing her title as the best in Southwest Georgia.
Committed to Division II North Georgia, Ragan was powerful both on the mound and at the plate. Even though the senior claimed it was a “disappointing year” with the bat, she hit .590 with 39 RBIs and seven home runs. As a pitcher, she had a 10-1 record, a 0.87 ERA and a strikeout ratio of 1.6 per inning. In 64 1/3 innings of work, she stuck out 104 and ended her career with 719 strikeouts.
Just like when she was at Randolph Southern — where she led the Lady Patriots to GISA state finals appearances in 2011 and ’12 — she was dominant at SGA.
“You get good pitchers sometimes and you get good hitters sometimes, but rarely do you get somebody who can hit like her and throw like her,” SGA coach Tommy Manry said. “And she works hard at everything she does.
“I know we wouldn’t have been (undefeated) in the regular season without her. And if we would have even won the region, it would have been a dogfight.”
Instead, it was a cakewalk.
The Lady Warriors swept through GISA Region 3-AAA with their only true challenge coming from Sherwood Christian and the Lady Eagles’ ace, and The Herald’s runner-up for Player of the Year honors, Anna Laine Brock.
It was a season to remember in Damascus, one where the entire community rallied around their Lady Warriors and watched them jump on the back of Ragan and ride her to wins in their first 20 games.
However, not a day went by for Ragan that she didn’t think about Randolph Southern and the field she grew up on back in Shellman.
The memories tugged at her heart.
“I thought about Randolph Southern every day,” she said. “It was hard to think about it because it was such a small school, but it meant so much to me. But I think what happened happened for a reason, and in the end it gave me a really good season with coach Manry and all the other girls.”
Longtime friend and Randolph Southern teammate Braylie Blanton — one of five Lady Warriors to make The Herald’s All-Area team — also transferred to SGA, and the duo formed instant bonds with a team already full of stars.
“To me, it looked like the team accepted (Ragan and Blanton) like they had always been there,” said Manry, who retired at the end of the season after coaching softball for 29 years. “As a coach, you are always a little apprehensive about adding new players because you don’t want to upset the chemistry. And those are two athletes who are good enough to take somebody’s starting job.”
The Lady Warriors didn’t mind — not even senior Allison Houston, who gave up her full-time starting job at first base to Ragan.
“Allison was the biggest supporter Madison had,” Manry said. “She would have been an every-day starter, but she was actually one of the girls who tried to get Madison to come here.”
Ragan was bombarded by texts, phone calls and emails before making up her mind to enroll at SGA. But unlike other schools that campaigned for Ragan, Manry made a single phone call to Madison’s father and former Randolph Southern coach Rand Ragan.
“I said to Rand, ‘You know I am truly sorry your school is closing, and I would rather her finish up her career where she played her whole life. But I’m not a fool either. I would love to have her,’ ” Manry recalled.
So despite spending much of the summer practicing with the Sherwood softball team, Ragan took Manry up on his offer and became the face of the SGA softball program for a season.
The Lady Warriors rattled off win after win, eventually stepping into the semifinals of the state tournament with a perfect 20-0 record.
But that was where the magic ended.
With back-to-back losses to Westfield and Tattnall Square, SGA and Ragan were stunned with a sudden exit from the state tournament.
As most stars do, Ragan blamed herself.
“All I could think about was that I was really disappointed,” said Ragan, who was the starting pitcher in one of the losses and didn’t get a hit in either. “At that moment, I felt like I had let everybody down. I was just trying not to cry.”
The tears came a few minutes later when Manry announced his retirement.
But then in the quiet aftermath of the loss, as she sat and watched another state tournament game, Ragan’s tears started to dry.
“I was sitting there, and I realized that couldn’t change what happened that day and that I was blessed to be there with that team and spend my final year breaking records and going undefeated,” she said. “I didn’t sit around and mope too long.”
Now Ragan is off to college, the next step in her incredible career. She’s committed to North Georgia but hasn’t signed with the Lady Saints. If she does, she hopes to be able to shine both on the mound and at the plate.
“I think they see me more of a pitcher, but I think they are going to ask me to do both,” Ragan said.
When asked what area of her game Ragan was stronger in, Manry said it was a toss-up.
“Flip a coin,” he said. “To me, you would have to flip a coin. She’s that good at both.”
Ragan had the kind of talent that Manry had always dreamed of having on his side of the diamond.
“I would coach against her twice a year from the time she was in eighth grade,” Manry said. “The best game I ever saw her pitch was her junior year, and she threw a one-hitter against us and won. I thought, ‘It sure would be nice to have that kid. If only I could have that kid on my team for a year …’”