The mental process for North Forsyth’s players and coaches after their best Class AAAAA softball season went something like this:
Recover from the sting of falling to No. 1 Brookwood in the second round of the state playoffs.
Take some time to reflect on one of the best years in school history, which saw the Raiders earn their first state tournament series victory as a member of Georgia’s largest classification since joining in 2007.
Begin preparations for club softball, enjoy the holidays and maybe squeeze in a thought or two about next fall.
That last step raises an ominous question.
What will life be like without Lauren Shaw?
“That’s going to be a tough spot to fill next year,” said North pitcher/outfielder Andrea Coleman of the Raiders catcher.
Said coach Bud Henderson: “You wish you had one like [Shaw] every year, but you don’t.”
Shaw caught her final games at North this season, raking in Region 6-AAAAA player of the year honors and her third straight All-Forsyth County team selection on the way out the door. She’ll play for Auburn University at Montgomery next season while her high school squad moves on without her and three other seniors.
And though Henderson faces the daunting task of replacing a four-year starter at one of the sport’s most scrutinized positions, Shaw may still help the Raiders while she seeks to excel at the college level, the coach said.
“She’s kind of let people know that are in the program what it looks like to be a catcher and what it takes to be effective,” Henderson said. “Even with her not there anymore, she can be an influence in the program in that sense.”
Shaw batted .493 during her senior year, drove in 24 runs and drew 19 walks, reaching base more than 60 percent of the time she stepped into the batter’s box. Behind the plate, she rarely gave up a passed ball and kept runners honest all season.
Her stats and performance speak for themselves. Her emergence as a team leader during her senior campaign may have proved equally valuable, according to her coach and teammates.
“Everyone looked up to her,” said Coleman, an all-county selection herself who spent two years pitching to Shaw. “She played such a big role for our team. Without her, we would’ve struggled.”
Shaw said she knew after her junior year she’d need to fulfill that duty if her team hoped to make good on its goal of going further in the playoffs than it had the previous season, when it was swept out of the first round by Archer.
She acted with acute awareness that her teammates were watching her, she said, and took it upon herself to “lead by example.”
But that didn’t stop her from relishing her final season of interscholastic softball.
“Senior year was definitely the best year here for me, just having fun-wise,” Shaw said. “We really pulled together as a team and created an atmosphere where it was really fun to be around the girls and all the coaches and everything.”
She carries matched enthusiasm to the next squad she’ll join.
Auburn Montgomery’s softball program enters its fourth year of existence this spring ranked 13th in the NAIA coaches’ poll. The Warhawks lost two starters from last season’s 34-20 campaign, but will say goodbye to seven seniors after this spring.
Chris Wilcoxson, the team’s head coach, roomed with North assistant Becky Cahill while the two played softball at Auburn University. Wilcoxson began recruiting Shaw at Cahill’s recommendation.
“I saw a lot of potential, a lot of promise,” Wilcoxson said. “[Cahill] really thought the world of her and we realized she could be a really good fit for our program.”
Wilcoxson said Shaw projects as a catcher, though she could be used at designated hitter or outfielder. Shaw played in the outfield for two years before Henderson moved her behind home plate.
AUM’s current roster lists two catchers — one a senior, the other a junior. The team’s five-member recruiting class of 2012 also includes a catcher.
Henderson saw immediate returns after switching Shaw to the position before her junior season.
“In years past, we’d kind of been weak with allowing runs to score and advance without the ball being put in play,” he said. “With a consistent, strong catcher back there, that doesn’t happen. That’s kind of an intimidation factor … when you can take that aspect out of an opponent’s game.”
Henderson said he’s identified at least three candidates to catch for North next season but acknowledges that fully replacing a player like Shaw is virtually impossible.
“To me, you wanted Lauren up to bat when a game was on the line or when there was runners in scoring position,” Henderson said. “You wanted her presence there.
“You also wanted her presence behind the plate catching and on defense.”
Coleman — a key returner that will be counted on in the stead of Shaw and fellow seniors Shelby Johnson, Nina Rodriguez and Morgan Wade — attributes much of her success as a sophomore to that presence.
“With her being behind the plate, she was always there for me,” said Coleman, the Forsyth County pitcher of the year and a club teammate of Shaw’s. "I knew if I ever made a bad pitch, she'd be able to stop and block, and she always gave me moral support as well. If I ever needed it, she'd always come out and give me a little pump-up speech."
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter @PhilErvin_FCN