For Griffin, it was her ability to solidify the center field position for the Lady Lions, allowing the defense to take shape for an incredible run to a third-place finish in the Class AAA state tournament.
“Early on coming in, [Griffin] was the deciding factor in being able to move Aubrey [Bennett] in. Aubrey did such an outstanding job in center field as a freshman, but her being able to move to shortstop really filled a gap for us,” Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc said.
Yates was willing to make the move to third base to fill a void and get herself into the starting lineup and play in ever Lady Trojans’ game but one.
“She played a position she’d never played before. That was her desire to be in the lineup. She was willing to play a position that we lost the year before and really handled it well. Had some bumps and bruises along the way, but overall we were extremely happy with her performance through the year,” Carrollton coach Lisa Phillips said.
Stepping up as a freshman isn’t always the easiest, especially when there are high expectations. Phillips has never been one to shy away from starting a freshman if they show they can handle it.
“[Yates] definitely had a lot of characteristics I had seen early on in players that had played as freshmen for me, going back to my Bremen days to here. She had a lot of those qualities in just awareness of the game, definitely could hold her own at the plate, could run the bases well, had a good bat and a good glove,” Phillips said. “I’ve never been afraid to play a freshman if they exhibit those kinds of characteristics. Obviously, we knew pretty early that she’d be special for us.”
For Griffin, it wasn’t long before LeBlanc knew he could put her out in center field and she would be productive. The Central coach said it was apparent in practice and the early portion of the non-region schedule that Griffin could handle the responsibility.
While the coach having faith in you helps, there’s still a lot of pressure. Even when you hit .366, score 44 runs, drive in 23 runs, have 18 stolen bases and draw 24 walks, there is always something to prove.
“It’s nice knowing he has confidence in me like that, but it’s also very nerve-racking, because it puts a lot of pressure on me as a freshman. It’s nice that he knows what I can do and that I do have ability, but I also have to show it to him,” Griffin said.
LeBlanc knew she had the ability at a game in Callaway when Griffin jumped into and knocked over the outfield wall to catch a fly ball and rob the opposing team of a home run.
Yates finished the season playing in 35 of the Lady Trojans’ 36 games on the year, batting .385 with 15 stolen bases and 38 runs scored. The switch to third base was a way for her to get into the every day lineup, and add another weapon to her arsenal.
“It was difficult at first, then I started to get better and coach Phillips helped me get better. I had played there before, but not as a main position. This year it was different,” Yates said. “I just wanted to work hard there and get better. It’s now another position I can play ... It really helps to know I can play almost every position. Wherever [Phillips] puts me, I know I can get better at that position. I know she can put me anywhere.”
Carrollton reached the second round of the state tournament, but was knocked out by the eventual Class AAAA state champions, Northwest Whitfield, to just miss out on a trip to Columbus. While it ended there, Yates still gained the experience of a region tournament and the state playoffs. It’s something that will come in handy down the road, especially replacing seniors Randi Phillips and Jessie Pruett.
“She proved to us early on that she could do it and as the season progressed. We played one of the toughest competition schedules in the state between tournaments, our region and then to face Northwest Whitfield, who won the state championship. She was in that fight on all that stuff and held her own. We couldn’t have asked anything more,” Lisa Phillips said. “When we were able to play a lot of younger kids, like Shelby, and then we have some kids that are juniors that will be seniors, a lot of them started as freshmen. To have that experience is, obviously, you don’t feel quite as bad about losing those two [seniors].”
A sign of maturity is finding the good to come out of a bad situation. The Lady Lions dropped just one region game this year, and that’s the one that sticks out in Griffin’s mind. The team lost 8-7 in extra innings, but she broke out of a slump and the team went on to win its next 12 games, including the region championship, sweeps in the first two rounds of the state tournament and the first two games at Columbus.
Coming into next year, Griffin won’t be looked at as a second-year varsity player.
“It’s kind of hard to believe when you look at a girl like Cassie, nobody’s going to think of her as a sophomore because they’ve seen so much of her already,” LeBlanc said.
As for Yates, Lisa Phillips expects some big things over the next three years.
“We’re just glad we have her three more years. She’s going to be a big plus to the program and I think will make a statement before she leaves of being one of the better ones that’s come through here,” Lisa Phillips said.