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North Forsyth '97 team hammered way to state championship
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North Forsyth finished 28-2 in 1997, breezing through the Class 1A state tournament in Columbus. Staff Illustration

Team: 1997 North Forsyth Raiders

Coach: Byron Orr

Record: 28-2

Result: Beat Temple 16-6 in championship game

Quote: "That's basically what it's all about, in the big scheme of things. One little thing here that you give them might help them with something — it doesn't matter if it's sports. If they can give something that you gave them to their kids, and their kids can use it, that's kind of what it's all about, in the big scheme of things." — North Forsyth coach Byron Orr

The Forsyth County News sports staff is revisiting each county school's first team state championship. This story is on the 1997 North Forsyth softball team.

North Forsyth's softball team starts counting at the number two when assigning jersey numbers.

That's the way it's been since 1997, when Kevia Brown and a group of Raiders brought the school its first team state championship. Jeff Biggs won the school's first individual championship earlier that year.

Brown, who wore No. 1, saw her jersey retired promptly after North Forsyth beat Temple in the Class 1A state championship.

When North Forsyth High School opened in 1994, it was surrounded by success in Forsyth County. South Forsyth won the county's first softball title 1994, then Forsyth Central followed a couple of years later with another state championship. 

Before the close of the century, though, North Forsyth would win two of its own.

The Raiders came close in 1995, finishing as the Class 1A runner-up. The following year, North Forsyth placed fifth.

"So we had been close, even right after we opened the school up," said Byron Orr, who coached North Forsyth's softball and baseball teams to state championships. "We were pretty lucky that we had a good group of kids that came to the school."

North Forsyth finished 28-2 in 1997, breezing through the Class 1A state tournament in Columbus. The Raiders outscored their opponents 47-19 at the tournament, including a 16-6 mercy-rule win against Temple the clinch the championship.

"The thing about those girls at North, they believed in what you were doing and knew you were behind them, they'd run through a brick wall," Orr said. "They'd run through a brick wall for you. And I'll be honest, all the teams I had at North, they were that way."

Sluggers dotted the diamond for Orr's Raiders, as power hitters Brown and Lauren Honea anchored the left side of the infield.

Brown, a senior, hit .543 and led the county with 51 hits and and six home runs.

Brown was also handy on defense.

"Kevia was our shortstop, and anything that came to her she got it," Orr said.

As a freshman, Honea slugged three home runs and five doubles behind a .489 average, adding a county-best nine triples. She also posted an .840 slugging percentage.

"Sometimes Kevia's (hits) would be in the gap and she'd just run," Orr said. "Some of the fields were 300 feet, so if you hit a ball in the gap and you were fast, you could get an inside-the-park homer. Now, Lauren, when we played on some fields at 275, she hit some that went over the fence."

Mindy Bailey was a veteran presence at second base, while Lori Gravitt played first base and hit .479, and Cassi Bennett caught and hit .400. Shannon Cantrell chipped in four home runs, 32 RBIs and a .483 average.

The Raiders' offensive firepower was made even more potent by the way Orr filled out his lineup card.

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Former North Forsyth baseball and softball coach Byron Orr, right, throws out the first pitch in 2013 ahead of a game against Forsyth Central. - photo by David McGregor
"I'd have a couple of power hitters and would put one third or fourth and the other one would be sixth and then we'd put some speed in the middle," Orr said. "So, we could put people on and then drive them in. If we hit the ball anywhere near a gap, most of those kids could score from first base. If they were on second, it was almost automatic; they were in."

Orr remembers his players excelling at multiple sports while at North Forsyth.

Brown held several basketball records for the Raiders, too, setting the record for most points in a game (41) and most 3-pointers in a game (9).

In fact, the record for most points in a game fell in 2000 when Lauren Gaines — a freshman on the 1997 softball team — scored 51 points in a win against Lumpkin County. She also matched Brown's nine 3-pointers in that game.

"They were real athletes," Orr said. "A lot of them play two or three sports. When we first opened we weren't as big, obviously, numbers-wise, so we had girls who were playing softball and basketball, and then we had some who did softball, basketball and track."

Jessica Bagley is one of those players who starred in the spring for the Raiders' track team.

"Jessica Bagley could probably cover 10 feet in one stride," Orr said. "You could put her on first base, and if they hit one to the gap, she would almost be home before they could get to the ball in the gap. Once she opened it up, she could fly."

Orr remembers how Bagley and Gaines could cover about half the outfield by themselves.

"She played the game all out," Orr said of Gaines. "It didn't bother her to dive and get up and come up throwing. She was that kind of player."

North Forsyth went undefeated in Columbus, opening the state tournament with an 8-7 victory over Irwin County, then a 9-2 win against Trion sent the Raiders to the winner's bracket final. 

North Forsyth pummeled Savannah Country Day, 14-3, as Bagley's two-out RBI single in the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie and opened the floodgates.

The Raiders then mercy-ruled Temple behind a 3-for-4 effort from Cantrell, who drove in four runs in the game — Cantrell finished a combined 6 for 7 against Savannah Country Day and Temple. 

After the season, Brown was named the GACA (North) Player of the Year and North Forsyth retired her number.

"All the things she had done during those four years that she was at North, and then being named the North Georgia Player of the Year, that's why we felt like we'd go ahead and retire that one," Orr said. "To be named player of the year is a pretty good thing — same thing with Bo Counts in baseball. When you get to be player of the year for an entire classification, that's a little bit different than just being on the All-State team or something of that nature.

"It's something for the other kids to strive for and work toward, to try to get to that level. Hopefully some others will join in as time goes on, now with the hall of fame established and stuff like that."

Orr and the Raiders' 1997 softball team were inducted into the North Forsyth Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.

The following spring, Orr led North Forsyth to a state championship in baseball. Later that year, the Raiders' softball team successfully defended their title with their second straight championship.

"I'll tell you what the neatest thing is, which is to see them with their kids. You know, they've all got kids now, and some of them are school-age kids," Orr said. "They're starting to coach their kids, so they'll say something that I said back when we were practicing or something, and they'll use the same line or whatever it was. 

"That's basically what it's all about, in the big scheme of things. One little thing here that you give them might help them with something — it doesn't matter if it's sports. If they can give something that you gave them to their kids, and their kids can use it, that's kind of what it's all about, in the big scheme of things."