Milledgeville and Baldwin County are special when it comes to producing top athletic talent.
Last week our paper produced a couple of pages congratulating the GMC Prep and John Milledge Academy softball teams’ outstanding achievements in their 2019 seasons, and it was entirely fitting because both programs reached heights that most in the state were not able to match.
This season the Lady Dogs of GMC Prep made it back to Columbus. For those of you who don’t know what “going to Columbus” means, the West Georgia city is the annual site of the GHSA fast pitch softball state championships. There the final eight teams duke it out in a double-elimination tournament in their respective classifications for the right to hoist the trophy. There are more than 450 GHSA schools across the state (not sure exactly how many have softball programs, but it’s definitely a majority) and only 64 punch their ticket to Columbus each year.
The Lady Trojans of John Milledge not only made it to their fifth consecutive Final Four, but took the next step as well as they competed for a state championship, finishing as GISA AAA state runners-up. Making their achievement all the more impressive is the fact that they made it to Mercer (site of the GISA state championships and my second home at this point) after having played in their league’s best region, albeit a small one. Three of the four teams in the state semifinals came out of Region 4-AAA, putting other private school programs on notice as to where the top teams lie.
In following the GHSA and GISA softball postseasons this year I had what one might call an epiphany — no community as small as Milledgeville-Baldwin County’s was able to produce two programs to advanced so far in their respective leagues. Sure Macon and the Atlanta area were both well-represented on the big stage and some regions of the state like North Georgia sent multiple teams, but no place as small as little ol’ Milledgeville can boast sending two teams to Columbus and Mercer.
And this isn’t just a one-time occurrence. As mentioned earlier, JMA softball has played in five straight state semifinals and two of the last four GISA championships. All GMC Prep has done meanwhile is earn its trip to Columbus almost every single year since 2012 with 2018 being the only exception. What starts with hard work, dedication, and many miles put on the family vehicle going to travel ball tournaments has made this area a hotbed for softball talent.
It starts with one arm from each school — Brayden Latimer at John Milledge and Bella Herring at GMC Prep — a pair of aces I would put up against anyone in the state. And then there’s the bats. The Lady Dogs have Makenna Talcott and M.K. Lawrence near the top of their order while the Lady Trojans lead off with Olivia Rhodes and Madison Brown. Brown, Lawrence and Rhodes are all particularly smooth with the glove as well. All are at least All-Region selections while some were chosen All-State. Of course these teams could not obtain their success without senior leadership. Whitley Ward (GMC) and Sutton Eady (along with Brown at JMA) held those stations in 2019. Ward and Eady both hit two of the furthest home runs anyone has seen at their respective fields this season, all while helping their programs maintain or reach new levels of success.
One is almost tempted to ask what the outcome would be if the two local teams played one another, but I’ll do one better — who could stop them if they were all a part of the same program?