By Jim O'Hara
ROME--For the third straight year, the cream of the crop of Georgia’s top high school softball players come to Rome to display their skills on the diamond next week when Shorter University plays host to the annual Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North/South All-Star Softball Classic.
“This is a great opportunity for our athletic department, Shorter University and the community,” Shorter head coach Al Thomas said of the event, which will see 32 players from the state take part in practice sessions and contests on Monday and Tuesday in preparation for the Classic doubleheader between the teams on Wednesday.
“These players are the best of the best and it is considered one of the premier softball events in the South,” Thomas said, “and like those who have played in this event in the past are headed to the best college softball programs in the country.”
Last year, the Classic grabbed national attention when pitcher Geri Ann Glasco of Oconee County High was named the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year. Making a surprise trip to Rome to present the award to Glasco, who now plays at the University of Georgia, was two-time Olympic medalist and international softball legend Jessica Mendoza.
This time around, the two rosters include more than 15 players who will continue their careers playing on the NCAA Division I level, with teams from the ACC, SEC and Big Ten landing some of the stars, including the 2013 Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year Megan Betsa of Union Grove who has signed to play next year at the University of Michigan.
Two players who are part of this year’s Shorter recruiting class will provide a preview of what they will be bringing to the Lady Hawks for the next four years as former Ringgold High standout Ericka Bynum and Kalei Kimbrell, a star at Gordon Lee, are on the North roster.
Bynum, who can play at third or first base, is an All-State honoree who this year batted an amazing .477, while Kimbrell earned All-State honors after posting a 21-4 record and a stingy 0.73 ERA on the mound to lead the Lady Trojans to their third straight state championship.
The Classic entourage begins to arrive Sunday when the GACA staff and coaches gather to go over the three-day schedule planned for the players, who will check in Monday morning and hold their first team workouts at Shorter’s home ballpark at Alto Park in the afternoon, with the North stars practicing at 2 p.m. and the South squad taking the field at 3:30.
Both teams return to Alto Park on Tuesday morning and in the afternoon turn their attention to fun when the players compete in the Gold Medal Games – throwing accuracy and speed are among the contests – and a Home Run Derby at 3 p.m.
Also planned for the players off the field each night will be a bowling outing, dinner at State Mutual Stadium and a movie night.
On Wednesday, however, the players and the coaches turn their attention to the North-South showdown when they play a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. to decide who gets the bragging rights. Admission to the game is free.
“The friendships and relationships we’ve built in the past three years are part of the big picture,” said Thomas, “and we get to showcase our ballpark. We’re excited to be able to host this game again and extend an invitation to everyone in the community to come and enjoy it.”
2013 GACA All-Star Classic Rosters
(Player, High School & College)
Caroline Taylor, Bacon County, Mercer
Maddie Evans, Effingham County, Reinhardt
Shelby Hiers, Brooks County, Arkansas
Haley Mays, Harlem, Undecided
Peaches Barr, Jackson, Fort Valley State
Amanda Hallman, Kennesaw Mtn., Savannah State
Cara Parker, Lowndes, Appalachian State
Andie Martin, Northgate, Western Kentucky
Brittany Davis, Rutland, ABAC
Effie Manahan, Southeast Bulloch, South Carolina
Megan Betsa, Union Grove, Michigan
Megan Chocallo, East Coweta, Towson State
Hannah Twilley, Wayne County, Middle Georgia College
Faith Flanders, West Laurens, Georgia College & State
Mackenzie Toler, Whitewater, Mississippi State
Taesha Duboise, Woodland (Henry County), Tallahassee Community College
Coaches: Dana Mull, Gordon Lee; Jason Booker, NW Whitfield; Troy Pirkle, Alatoona
NORTH ALL STAR ROSTER
Kanani Cabrales, Archer, Georgia Tech
Mandy Blackwell, Brookwood, Georgia State
Karly Thompson, Fannin County, Morehead State
Shanta McDaniel, Calhoun, Chattanooga State Community College
Jenna Abbott, Dawson County, Auburn
Kalei Kimbrell, Gordon Lee, Shorter
Savannah Goldsmith, Heritage (Catoosa), U.T. Chattanooga
Emily Boyd, N.W. Whitfield, Ole Miss
Ericka Bynum, Ringgold, Shorter
Kensey Caldwell, Loganville, Georgia State
Jessi Kowalewicz, Providence Christian, Georgia Tech
Sam Pierannunzi, Peachtree Ridge, Georgia Tech
Laura Beall, Pope, Georgia Tech
Morgan Brown, Walnut Grove, Georgia State
Hannah Hardin, North Oconee, North Georgia College & State
Anna Beth Pruett, Prince Ave Christian, Lee
Coaches: Charlie Biles, Jackson; Sherry Richards, Tattnall County; Chris Jenkins, Jasper County