But behind the leadership of a veteran coach, coupled with a young and talented roster, it proved to stir about the magic formula for a special season in Eagle Country.
Grimes, the 2012 Times-Georgian Coach of the Year, engineered a historic run for the Mt. Zion High School softball program, which enjoyed the best season in its history, culminating with a third-place finish in the public school bracket of the Class A state tournament in Columbus.
“It was amazing. We knew coming in that we had some talent and we had a good chance to win some ball games. One of the goals was to make it into the state tournament, but I don’t know that we thought that we’d make it as far as we did,” Grimes said.
“You hope that things will work out. But being as young as we were, the first goal was to make it. I think we started peaking at the right time and they started gelling even a little bit better and got more maturity as the year went on. Everything just seemed to happen.”
With no seniors on the roster, Grimes and her coaching staff’s first bill of order was to get the young Lady Eagle ball club to believe in itself — that, yes, it was good enough and could more than hold its own against anybody it played.
The MZ coach looks back on a 7-4 setback to Landmark Christian on Sept. 24 as a changing point in the season. It was a wake-up call for the Lady Eagles, and they responded in a major way.
“Sometimes they say a loss can do you good and I think that loss may have done us good. Because at that point, I think they saw that what they were doing wasn’t quite good enough and that they could do a whole lot better,” Grimes said.
The Lady Eagles, who went 22-14 this year, held a team meeting following the loss and ultimately decided they were going to play with all their heart down the stretch of the season and see where it took them.
After the loss to Landmark, MZ would only lose five more games the rest of the year — one being a 5-4 setback to Region 5-AA regular season and tournament champion Bowdon — while the three of the others were to Class A state champions Gordon Lee and Mt. Pisgah, along with a state playoff loss to Georgia Military College, which finished second in the public school bracket.
MZ swept Echols County in the first round of the state playoffs, then beat Seminole County and Miller County down in Columbus to assure itself of no less than a third-place finish.
And though GMC and Gordon Lee ultimately ended the Lady Eagles’ season on the final day of the year, it was a major step for the young squad, which brings everyone back next year.
The trip to Columbus marked only the second in program history for Mt. Zion, and the third-place showing was the best any MZ softball team has ever finished on the state level.
Grimes said there were several keys to the successful year, including staying healthy and peaking at the right time, where everything just seemed to fall into place when it mattered most.
“It was just one of those times. It was really nice. I think the girls deserved it. They had been working. I’m happy that they got a taste, because I think with that taste, hopefully we can continue to keep moving forward,” Grimes said.
Grimes said much of the praise should also be directed toward assistant coaches Chad Barrow and Chad Lovelace, along with the work being done in the middle school program.
And with everyone returning next year, Grimes is hopeful this is just the start of a new tradition for MZ softball.
“I’m just hoping that they’ll keep the desire that they’ll have to get better and to play softball. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and I think we can make some noise for the next few years. We’ve got a good middle school program. They won their division, so I think we can start that tradition that we’ve got,” Grimes said.