The Long County Blue Tide softball team made a dramatic turnaround in the 2022 season. The team went 21-6 and won the Region 3-AAA championship, their first in team history.
They will look to do much of the same in 2023, but significant challenges lie ahead for second-year head coach Harley Kennedy. She talked about the changes she had to make going from assistant to head coach and what led to winning a region title in year one.
“It was quite an adjustment coming in from an assistant coach to a head coach last season, however, it did help that I was the assistant the year before with many of the same girls,” Kennedy said. “Maintaining consistency and expectations throughout the season was the biggest lesson of all. The girls developed a trust and saw progress throughout the year which made them really buy into the program and the changes being made. Coach (Tyler) Chambless helped me out extremely last season, as well as this season, by him having that head softball coach experience in Long County only a couple years ago.”
Kennedy also mentioned that the addition of a former Blue Tide athlete and coach to the squad will be a big help this year. Carlton Milton returned to Long County after spending the last two years in Tattnall County as its head softball coach.
“Gaining Coach Milton this season has been a tremendous help as well, which gives me two former head coaches on staff with me,” she said.
Possibly the biggest challenge the team must overcome in 2023 is the loss of nearly their entire starting lineup from the 2022 season. Seven seniors graduated, while they lost another rising senior to transfer.
“We lost seven starters from last season and gained nine freshmen. We are rebuilding all but one position from last season and has been a learning process for all,” Kennedy said. “We continue to work and not take our youth or experience as a reason to not compete. We have hard workers who come out every day to get better.”
Among the seven starters lost, pitcher Jaci Smiley and shortstop Taylor Hodges were two big losses. Both have moved on to play softball at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
With the addition of nine freshmen and only two seniors on the team, the Blue Tide will have to rely on its youth. However, Kennedy hopes that her two seniors’ experience will prove to outweigh some of their inexperience hurdles they must jump.
“We have two seniors this year, Emma Smith and Kyleigh Sizemore, who really bought in last year to the program and have been two big leaders on our team for our nine freshmen to look up to,” Kennedy said.
She also hopes other players who played reserve roles previously will step up this year. Junior Ciara O’Brien has been a key asset to the program the past two years, Kennedy said, and is giving guidance on the field to the younger players. Returners Madelyn Owens, Addie Moss, and Morgan Goode have helped the huge freshman class adjust, Kennedy added.
Despite the challenges, Kennedy is focused on defending the region championship and competing for a second straight title.
“We are looking to defend our region title this year and host another super regional in Long County,” she said. “We know it is a big goal and a tough goal, however, we look forward to the competition. We are excited for this upcoming season and look forward to building our program strong and getting better each year.”
One final challenge the Tide will face this season is the possibility of playing an entire road schedule. The team initially was scheduled to play Brunswick HIgh and Tattnall County at home this past week, but due to renovations at the field, the former was moved to a road game and the latter was canceled.
The Tide adjusted, however, and defeated the Pirates 14-4 on Wednesday, Aug. 9. Their two home games next week have been moved to away games as well.
They will play their regularly scheduled road game at Claxton on Thursday, Aug. 17.