Brenau University junior Mackenzie Oliver Mullis has scored plenty of runs in her softball career, but she had even more reason to celebrate crossing home plate Friday afternoon.
“It’s a whole different story knowing it’s our dirt and our field,” said Mullis, who is a health sciences major from Carnesville. “We’re not sharing it with anybody.
“It felt like ours.”
Mullis scored the first run on the new softball field at Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park, which gives the Golden Tigers legitimate home field advantage. They previously played on Parks and Recreation fields in the Gainesville area.
The facility, Phase 1 of a $4.4 million project, is in the New Holland community, about two miles from the historic Brenau campus in downtown Gainesville. Although the formal dedication will be April 18, there was some fanfare Friday with Brenau President Ed Schrader throwing out the first pitch before about 150 fans on the unseasonably warm, sunny day.
The Golden Tigers remained undefeated with a 5-0 record after topping Talladega College in an afternoon doubleheader, with the score 9-0 in Game 1 and 9-1 in the second game. In Game 1, freshman pitcher Eli Daniel, who is from Locust Grove, posted the first no-hitter at Pacolet Milliken Field, while sophomore Lexi Cash recorded the first hit at the park that is named after the South
Carolina-based company that donated the 16.8-acre tract of land next to its textile mill.
Cash, who doubled to drive in Mullis in the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, recognized the Golden Tigers players who came before her and never had a field to call their own.
“They just paved the way for this to happen,” the pre-nursing major from Toccoa, said. “It means a lot to me to be part of the first team to be out here.”
Brenau hopes to add a field for soccer, lacrosse, and a track adjacent to the softball venue.
The Melvin Douglas and Victoria Kay Ivester Foundation provided funding in 2014 to complete development of the first phase of the park, which is named for Kay Ivester’s father. Douglas Ivester, the former Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO, who is a Brenau trustee.
The Ivesters grew up in New Holland.
With Brenau’s enrollment approximately 830 at the Women’s College, almost one-fourth are involved in intercollegiate athletics.
Schrader said the new athletic facility marks the fulfillment of a promise and a renewed commitment to alumni of the Women’s College and all future Brenau students “that we’re not following the path of all these women’s schools in the last 30 years who have either ceased to exist or gone co-ed.”
The Golden Tigers softball team began reaping benefits even before the first pitch.
Brenau coach Devon Thomas said he has completed his recruiting class for 2017. “All five that I brought in, they came to the field and they committed that night,” he said. “I’ve also got two for 2018 already. I used to have to wait, and now they see the locker room, the field house, the facility, the scoreboard and it helps recruiting 100 percent.”
Thomas’ roots are in the New Holland community, too. Both of his paternal grandparents worked at the mill. His grandfather pitched on a fast-pitch team that played on the old ball fields in the mill that was at about the same spot in the park as the new field. Thomas even played on the fields growing up.
“I had goose bumps today when I came out here,” he said, “just knowing who all played on this field. Johnny Mize is one of the former major league baseball players who played right here on this field, and now we’ve brought the field back to life and continued the game of softball on it.”