Team: 1994 South Forsyth War Eagles
Coach: Johnny Tallant
Result: Beat Vidalia 13-12 in Class 2A state championship
Quote: “In ’94, we had a real good team, but I don’t think we were as good as we were the year before or the year after, but we got hot at the right time." — South Forsyth head coach Johnny Tallant
The Forsyth County News sports staff is revisiting each county school's first team state championship. This story is on the 1994 South Forsyth softball team.
Forsyth County was softball royalty in the mid-1990s.
The three county high schools combined to bring home four state championships in softball during a five-year stretch, a trend South Forsyth initiated in 1994.
Under the direction of head coach Johnny Tallant, the War Eagles captured the school’s first team state championship that year, as the softball team topped Vidalia 13-12 in the Class 2A state championship. Shannon Dunlap won the school’s first individual state championship that spring in girls tennis.
“We won four out of five years there – of course, it was in different classifications,” Tallant said. “We were pretty strong then.”
South Forsyth was simply unstoppable in the postseason that year. The War Eagles reached the state tournament after plowing their way through sectionals, pummeling North Clayton 19-4 and Villa Rica 15-4, racking up 38 hits in the two games.
South Forsyth exacted revenge on Washington Wilkes in the opener, 7-3, beating the team that had ended their season in 1993.
Tallant believes that ’93 South Forsyth team was one of the best during his tenure at the school.
“In ’94, we had a real good team, but I don’t think we were as good as we were the year before or the year after, but we got hot at the right time,” Tallant said.
The War Eagles stayed hot, as they dropped Brantley 12-10, then outlasted Vidalia in the championship by a one-run margin.
In fact, it was the play of left fielder Kelly Mathis that secured the victory.
With a runner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, locked in a one-run game, Mathis snagged a sinking line drive off the bat of Vidalia’s clean-up hitter for the final out of the game.
“Kelly made a real good catch, coming in and sliding and just making a catch to end the game,” Tallant said. “We won the last game by one run. It seems like we beat them both times by one run. Vidalia was a real good team, and we were able to beat them twice.”
Mathis was a menace at the plate, too, rebounding from an injury to hit .773 (17 for 22) with three home runs and 16 RBIs over the final six games. In all, Mathis finished her junior season with a .556 batting average, eight home runs and 54 RBIs.
Tina Harrison led off the War Eagles’ lineup and hit .509 in 1994, but her most unique attribute didn’t show up in the stat book.
“Tina was a left-handed shortstop,” Tallant remembered, “which I didn’t want to play her there, but she was the best athlete.”
Carey Thompson pitched and hit .429 with two homers, six triples and 41 RBIs that season. She was one of just two seniors on South Forsyth’s ’94 squad, joining catcher Wendy Bearden, who finished with a .407 batting average.
Kelly Green hit. 454 and drove in 25 runs, while Becky Quinn socked four home runs to go with a .425 batting average, and Tianna Fowler compiled a .476 batting average.
South Forsyth had plenty of offense, but the War Eagles also played sound defense.
“We had a lot of high-scoring games, you know, 8-7, 9-6, but we had a lot of 3-2, 5-4 games,” Tallant said. “We had a lot of low-scoring games because you had to have a real good defense. If you put a bad player out in right field, they’d kill you. Everybody could hit the opposite way in slow pitch. In fast pitch, you can put somebody in the outfield, and if the pitcher is good, they’re not going to get a whole lot of action.”
Despite opening in 1989, South Forsyth was no stranger to the postseason by 1994.
“The second year, we got in a bunch of freshmen and we went to the state (tournament) and finished like fourth,” Tallant recalled. “Then, the next two years, we didn’t even go to state, but we had really good teams. In ’93, we probably had the best team, because those girls who were freshmen were all seniors, and we ended up finishing fifth at state that year.”
Forsyth Central won its first softball championship in 1996, then North Forsyth followed with back-to-back titles the next two seasons.
To illustrate the level of softball talent in Forsyth County at the time, South Forsyth’s worst loss during its championship season came when rival North Forsyth handed the War Eagles a 15-3 blowout loss.
But South Forsyth went on a tear at the end of the season, winning 18 of the final 20 games, including the one that mattered most.
“It was a good run,” Tallant said. “It was the first time we’d had a (girls) state champion since the ’59 (Forsyth Central girls basketball team) in the state tournament, so it was big. Then right after, Central won and North won. All three of us, Jerry, Byron and I – of course, Byron’s my first-cousin – it was always a friendly rivalry between us.”