As sophomores, Meghan Rud and Andrea Coleman have already accomplished what many varsity softball players hope to in an entire career.
Rud, South Forsyth’s third baseman, and Coleman, North Forsyth’s starting pitcher, earned 2011 Forsyth County player of the year and pitcher of the year honors, respectively. Both players were selected to the team during their freshman year as well.
They’re the most decorated members of a youth movement that’s apparently taking precedent in Forsyth County high school softball.
The 17-player squad contains seven sophomores, two freshmen and only three seniors. Last year’s team was comprised of seven freshmen, and seven of the players that have made the last two all-county rosters return next season.
For Rud and Coleman, dedication to the sport around the clock — and the calendar — has helped them earn standout recognition halfway through their high school tenures. Embracing the nationwide trend of specialization at the high school level, neither athlete plays another sport.
“This is all I do,” Rud said. “Well, this and school.”
Changing the game
It’s difficult to turn eyes away from a .439 batting average and team-leading 21 RBI.
But Rud’s reputation among area softball enthusiasts centers around one thing: her blazing speed.
“Dang, that girl can go,” a Creekview player’s parent said from the press box during South’s regular season finale in Canton.
Rud broke her own school record with 30 steals this season and is now the school’s all-time leader in stolen bases. She scored 34 runs in 2011, the most of any all-county player.
A mainstay at the top of the War Eagles’ lineup, much of South’s offensive prowess (8.3 runs scored per game during region play) this season should be attributed to her, coach Ronnie Davis said.
“Her type of play allows other people around her to have success, because once she’s on base she puts tremendous pressure on defenses,” said Davis, whose team twice came up just short of a state playoff berth. “I bet 12 or 13 of her steals, the other team tried to pitch out and throw her out. That’s a ball to the batter, and all of a sudden the batter’s in a hitter’s count. It has a trickle-down effect, putting the person behind her in good position.”
Rud was thrown out once all season.
In addition to working on her swing and slapping form, Rud read defenses better this year, Davis said. She learned to watch where defenders were moving when taking pitches, and was adept at finding those holes once she swung the bat.
While her batting average was a point lower than last season, her on-base percentage, steals, RBI and runs scored all went up this year. She also hit two in-the-park home runs.
Extra time in the batting cage this year helped her reach the bases. Offseason sprints, latter drills and hurdle workouts keep her getting around them.
“I do all kinds of speed and agility stuff, and I try to have good base running smarts,” said Rud, who plays for the Atlanta Vipers club team. “Having put all this effort and money into the sport, it means a lot to me. … Hopefully this will get to me to be able to play in college.”
Said Davis: “You can make a kid faster, but you can’t necessarily make them fast. Naturally, she’s just had a lot of ability, but her tremendous work ethic has made her type of player she is.”
Rud’s received interest from Georgia Tech and Mercer so far, she said, but still has three more club seasons and two more years on the high school diamond.
“She’s one of those kids that only comes around once in a while,” Davis said. “You’ve got to enjoy it while you have it.”
Twice the work, twice the reward
Against a team ranked No. 1 in the GACA coaches’ poll at the time, Coleman calmly settled in for her first at-bat in the second round of the state playoffs at Brookwood.
With Broncos fans banging drums and blowing vuvuzela horns, Coleman sat back on a fastball and drove it over the left-field wall, momentarily silencing the crowd as she trotted around the bases.
A few minutes later, she took the pitcher’s circle and tossed the first of six innings without an earned run against a team that reached the elite eight in the Class AAAAA playoffs.
Just another day for the Forsyth County pitcher of the year, who posted a 2.75 ERA while batting .416 and driving in 26 runs.
“She does about twice the work as everyone else,” North coach Bud Henderson said. “[Our pitchers] spend no telling how many hours in the pitcher’s circle working on pitches, timing and footwork. Then she goes and works with the defense and learns the plays there, then jumps in with the hitting groups about halfway through. She’s at practice longer than almost everybody else.”
Coleman takes weekly pitching lessons outside of the normal varsity and club practice schedule and still finds time to work on her studies. The actual games quash any possibility of burnout, she said.
“The games and the excitement of having fans there is really what keeps you going,” she said. “It’s a lot of work that sometimes people may think, ‘oh, you’ll get tired of it,’ but having people out there to support and come watch you really keeps you going.”
With four seniors graduating, Coleman’s two-way skills will be a key component if North is to move further up the state playoff ladder after its first series victory in Georgia’s largest classification.
While filling spots remains a concern for Henderson, seeing the name “Coleman” on the roster always provides a bit of comfort, he said. "She makes a coach feel good about the next couple years."
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter @PhilErvin_FCN