Currently, the Golden Knights are 11-10 after coming off a tough road trip to Thomas University — a four-year school — in which they dropped a pair of one-run games in a four-game sweep. It’s all part of a process that started with the program’s beginning last year and will culminate in moving to Division I next year.
“I’m very excited about it because I spent a lot of time recruiting during the spring and throughout the summer last year. Word got out about our program and I have kids that are very interested, coaches that are contacting me. I’ve made a network of high school coaches, even expanding to north Georgia and south Georgia,” WGTC coach Stephanie Herrera said.
“I’m excited about West Georgia Tech softball. I think we’re putting our name on the map. I didn’t expect this much growth in a year, but it’s amazing how much that year has made a difference. Being able to get a recruiting class in that’s very talented and very skilled. Even though we aren’t a scholarship program right now, these kids are definitely next-level kids. They did have other offers and turned them down to play for West Georgia Tech.”
The softball program is following a similar path the baseball team did when it was added to the Golden Knights Athletic Department. The difference is the softball team is playing two years as a club program before making the move while the baseball team transitioned in its second year.
That decision, Herrera believes, will benefit the softball team in the long run.
“I think that [WGTC Athletic Director] Walter [Dunson] made a great decision in sticking with club this year. Although we play a club schedule, I don’t feel we’re a club team. We’ve recruited and done what we’ve done and made such a huge turnaround to the program in just a year. We have to have that from the top down, and with good leadership I’m able to put a winning team on the field already,” Herrera said.
The support the program has had from Day 1 from the top of the school’s administration down has helped the team grow and prepare it for the move to Division I.
“I’ve had tremendous, tremendous support from my coaching staff, from my boss Walter Dunson, Skip Sullivan, the president of the school, and [WGTC Sports Information Director] Aaron Sones. I know that without those people, this program would not survive. Anything we ask for, Walter goes out of his way to try and get us or prepare us for,” Herrera said.
“I feel like if we would have moved up to JUCO Division I this year, we’ve proven with the team we have that we have what it takes. But I want to get to the point, when we move up next year, that we’re winning the conference. I don’t want us just to hang, I want us to win. So staying where we’re at and winning where we’re at is very important to me. That’s just another stepping stone to add to the program.”
The Golden Knights play a year-round schedule that started in August, will go through the beginning of November and pick back up again in February.
“We want to put different situations on the field and players on the field. It gives us a chance to see what meshes and what goes together. It gives us the opportunity to expand a little bit. We’ve played some four-year schools, but that’s mostly for my players to get exposure and see that they have a chance to play after they graduate from West Georgia Tech,” Herrera said.
The 20-player roster consists of six sophomores and 14 freshmen that are already showing they have what it takes to play at the next level.
Courtney Braswell, a Central High School product, currently leads the team offensively with a .400 batting average, a pair of triples, a home run and 13 RBI. Also having strong starts to the season are Casey Bucy (.327, 6 2B, 14 RBI, 10 R), Kat Moreno (.415) and Katie Stone (.355). Ashley Parker leads the team with 22 stolen bases.
“Casey Bucy is doing great on the mound, she’s exceeding my expectations by far. She’s a big leader on the team. Courtney Braswell’s a transfer, she came back from Southern Union, and is a leader, as well. We have a lot of depth in our lineup. A really strong lineup,” Herrera said. “We have one kid in particular, Ashley Parker, she’s the fastest kid I’ve seen, hands down, in JUCO ball, period. Every time we go to play somebody, that’s all they talk about — how quick she is on the bases.”
Bucy is also the team’s leading pitcher with 43.2 innings pitched, giving up 21 earned runs on 41 hits with 18 strikeouts and a 4.33 earned run average. Kat Boyd and Morgan Anderson have also been impressive in the circle so far this season in 28.1 and 25 innings pitched, respectively.
This weekend will be the first conference games of the season, as WGTC hosts the Kennesaw State club team for a 2 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday and a 1 p.m. third game on Sunday.
“I think that the kids are ready and they’re excited about it. They know this weekend counts, but they play every weekend like it counts. Kennesaw State has a very good school team, so I expect their club team to have competition, as well. I don’t sell my team short. I believe they can play against anybody,” Herrera said. “I expect us to pick up three wins. I think once the kids have those wins under their belts, it’s just going to soar from there.
“I don’t want to compete, I want to win. Everybody wants to play for a winning school and that’s my goal as a coach — to push these kids off somewhere to a four-year [program] or somewhere to better themselves.”