By Robert Wilson

       The Hartfield Academy softball team started off this season like it was stuck in the first gear. The Lady Hawks won only half of their first 14 games, the last one of those a 13-run loss to Oak Forest, La., Academy.

       “The girls never lost sight of their goals and after that embarrassing loss to Oak Forest, they held a team meeting and really began to unite,” second-year coach Todd Aultman said. “As a coach, it was fun to see them individually sacrifice the ‘me’ mentality, and willingly fill the role that was best for the team.”

       Hartfield, quickly shifted in second, third and fourth gear, won 14 of its next 16 games and finished on a seven-game winning record, sweeping Jackson Prep in the best of three series for the MAIS Class 6A state championship, the second state title in three seasons.

       “We have 10 players that have been a part of the Hartfield softball program for the last five years, and have been the core of our team,” Aultman said. “(Former) Coach Julie McKinney has built a competitive culture at Hartfield, with the fruit of that labor culminating in the programs first state championship two years ago. We didn’t finish last year like we wanted to, and this team set a goal to get back to that standard. They put in the work, starting in February, with offseason workouts, and carrying through the summer practices. As the season started, we had some positional holes to fill, and shuffled girls around to find the right mix. The most exciting and unique piece to this squad, was that it truly took everyone to make it happen.”

       “I’m just proud of how our young ladies competed all year,” Hartfield athletic director David Sykes said. “To win a state championship two of the last three years is quite an accomplishment.”

       Junior Raegan Huber was the star pitcher and finished with an 11-1 record and a 1.42 earned run average. She also had a .478 batting average with a school-record 40 runs batted in.

       Junior third baseman-shortstop and leadoff hitter Carson Smith hit .471 with a team-high five home runs, 30 walks and 50 runs scored.

       Other key players were junior designated player Faith Tillery (four home runs), sophomore catcher Caroline Cronin (.983 fielding percentage, a team-high six sacrifice at bats), junior centerfielder Roo Roberts (threw out three runners at the plate), versatile junior middle infielder Heidi Moore (played four positions), junior relief pitcher Bre Wright, junior relief pitcher AC Singletary (allowed only one run in five innings of relief in the championship game), junior utility outfielder Shaimaya Williams, eighth grade outfielder Kyleigh Seymour and senior outfielder Cambrie Barnard.

       “This was truly a team championship and was fun as a coach to watch the sacrifice and growth culminate into success,” Aultman said. “We look forward to building off this and competing next year and years to come for more championships. These student athletes have worked to continue the winning culture of Hartfield softball, and this program standard of here to stay.”