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All-Area Softball: Dedication to the game spurs Buford talent Samantha Thomas
Rising senior helped Lady Wolves to Class AAAA state championship
Buford second baseman Samantha Thomas throws the ball to first during the Buford vs. North Hall 8-AAAA softball region title game in Buford on Monday, October 12, 2015. - photo by Erin O. Smith

All-Area softball team

Player of the Year

Buford: Samantha Thomas (2B, JUNIOR) – .431 BA, 47 HITS, 45 RUNS, 54 RBI, 6 SB, 8 2B, 18 HRs

First Team

C: North Hall: Niki Carver (C, JUNIOR) – .500 BA, 32 HITS, 28 RBI, 35 RUNS, 16 HBP, 8 HRs

1B: Jackson County: Caroline Davis (1B, FRESHMAN) – .449 BA, .500 OBP, .786 SP, 40 HITS, 26 RUNS, 28 RBI, 15 2B, 5 HRs, 2 SB

2B: Buford: Samantha Thomas (2B, JUNIOR) – .431 BA, 47 HITS, 45 RUNS, 54 RBI, 6 SB, 8 2B, 18 HRs

3B: Buford: Baylee Sexton (3B, SENIOR) – .487 AB, 55 HITS, 36 RUNS, 25 RBI, 34 SB, 4 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR

SS: White County: Madeline Bryson (SS, SENIOR) – .435 BA, .693 SP, 27 HITS, 14 RBI, 8 2B, 1 3B, 2 HRs

OF: Gainesville: Kayla Montague (OF, SENIOR) – .470 BA, .560 OBP, 15 BB, 31 RUNS, 12 SB

OF: Buford: Drew Puckett (OF, SENIOR) – .306 BA, 33 HITS, 17 RUNS, 23 RBI, 5 SB, 6 2B, 3 HRs

OF: North Hall: Carson McCormack (OF, SENIOR) – .362 BA, .412 OBP, 34 HITS, 6 2B, 2 3B, 20 RBI, 20 RUNS

P: Banks County: Mallory Parson (P, SENIOR) – (18-2), 1.89 ERA, 1.116 WHIP, 143.1 IP, 30 ER, 164 Ks, 34 BB

P: Buford: Peyton Wolfe (P, SENIOR) – (14-0), 2.06 ERA, 12 GS, 15 GP, 64.6 IP, 19 ER, 30 Ks, 10 BB

Second Team

C: Gainesville: Whitney Ledford (C, SENIOR) – .436 BA, .532 OBP, 23 RBI, 19 RUNS, 8 2B, 5 3B

1B: Buford: Kennedy Kotula (1B, SENIOR) – .331 BA, 32 HITS, 16 RUNS, 22 RBIs, 7 2B, 6 HRs

2B: Flowery Branch: Bailey Sims (2B, SENIOR) – .512 BA, .596 OBP, .707 SP, 1.303 OPS, 42 HITS, 24 RUNS, 32 RBI, 11 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 19 BB

3B: Gainesville: Madison Oliver (3B, SOPHOMORE) – .377 BA, .461 OBP, 5 HRs, 34 RBI, 23 RUNS, 6 2B

SS: Flowery Branch: Alana Collins (SS, FRESHMAN) – .359 BA, .476 OBP, .388 SP, 37 HITS, 34 RUNS, 10 RBI, 1 2B, 1 3B, 8 SB, 22 BB

OF: Flowery Branch: Chloe Zoeller (OF, JUNIOR) – .306 BA, .404 OBP, .347 SP, 30 HITS, 26 RUNS, 18 RBI, 2 2B, 1 3B, 6 SB, 15 BB

OF: Chestatee: Abby Xander (OF, SENIOR) – .308 BA, .357 OBP, .410 SP, 24 HITS, 16 RUNS, 17 RBI, 4 2B, 2 3B, 9 SB

OF: Chestatee: Kayla Watson (OF, SENIOR) – .310 BA, .355 OBP, .414 SP, 27 HITS, 20 RUNS, 11 RBI, 7 2B, 1 3B, 9 SB

P: Buford: Logan Caymol (P, SOPHOMORE) – (8-1), 1 SAVES, 1.11 ERA, 69.6 IP, 11 ER, 66 Ks, 35 BB

P: North Hall: Kendyl Chase (P, FRESHMAN) – 19 WINS, 23 CG, 1.04 ERA

Honorable Mention

Banks County: Jaycie Bowen (1B, FRESHMAN) – .403 BA, .432 OBP, .494 SP, .926 OPS, 31 HITS, 13 RUNS, 20 RBI, 4 2B, 1 HR

Banks County: Abby Baird (3B, JUNIOR) – .375 BA, .400 OBP, .550 SP, .950 OPS, 30 HITS, 9 RUNS, 22 RBI, 5 2B, 3 HRs

Chestatee: Beth Eddins (3B, FRESHMAN) – .375 BA, .421 OBP, .442 SP, 32 HITS, 15 RUNS, 25 RBI, 6 2B, 6 SB

Chestatee: Kenyana Wesley (OF, SENIOR) – .329 BA, .378 OBP, .342 SP, 25 HITS, 19 RUNS, 8 RBI, 1 2B, 14 SB

East Hall: Steffanie Redmon (3B, SOPHOMORE) – .405 BA, 30 HITS, 2 HRs

Flowery Branch: Calllie Alexzulian (OF, SOPHOMORE) – .304 BA, .366 OBP, .326 SP, 28 HITS, 19 RUNS, 14 RBI, 2 2B, 6 SB

Flowery Branch: Shelby Griffin (C, SENIOR) – .265 BA, .357 OBP, .347 SP, 26 HITS, 13 RUNS, 18 RBI, 6 2B, 1 3B

Habersham Central: Paige Cook (SS, FRESHMAN) – .351 BA, .367 OBP, .494 SP, 27 HITS, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 17 RUNS

Jackson County: Shelton Kendrix (3B, SENIOR) – .404 BA, .476 OBP, .584 SP, 36 HITS, 23 RUNS, 10 RBI, 11 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 SB

Jackson County: Jessica Burke (C, JUNIOR) – .386 BA, .458 OBP, .414 SP, 27 HITS, 9 RUNS, 13 RBI, 2 2B

North Hall: Kailee Dyer (2B, SOPHOMORE) – .347 BA, 33 HITS, 6 2B, 9 RBI, 22 RUNS

White County: Jessica Morgan (C, SOPHOMORE) – .453 BA, .887 SP, 24 HITS, 15 RBI, 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 HRs

Last October, Buford found themselves down 3-2 to Heritage-Catoosa in the state semifinals when Samantha Thomas came up to bat. Thomas had already hit a solo home run and an RBI sac fly earlier in the game, but that was in the fourth and fifth inning.

This was the bottom of the eighth inning with a trip to the state title game on the line.

“Whenever I come up to the plate, I try to clear my mind of all things,” said Thomas. “But I think, what most likely is this pitcher going to throw me.”

Pitchers usually throw away when she’s at the plate, according to the junior, so she sets her feet with that in mind but readies herself for whatever the pitcher has for her.

“With my reaction speed and just human nature, I know that I can react on the inside pitch if they pitch it in,” she said. “That’s my favorite pitch so when I go up there, I get in the box and I clear my head, set for outside and react to whatever pitch they throw me.”

And react she did. With a runner on, Thomas made contact with the pitch and sent that bright yellow ball high into the night sky and Buford into the state title game. A walk-off, two-run home run for The Times’ Area Softball Player of the Year.

Buford would go on to capture their ninth straight softball state championship with a 6-4 win over Walnut Grove the following afternoon with second baseman Thomas picking up right where she left off the night before, collecting the game’s first RBI with a single in her first at bat.

“Honestly, last season was like the best season I think I’ve had being at Buford,” Thomas said. “Because 1) I feel like the team was closer and 2) I feel like the team from last season just had a pure determination to not lose. We didn’t go out to win every game, but we just did not want to lose.

“We just thought in our heads we can’t do that. If we’re going to lose, it’s going to be because they beat us. We’re not going to lose because we beat ourselves, and I think that drove us to winning state.”

Thomas, who had 47 hits, 54 RBIs, 45 runs scored, six stolen bases, a .431 batting average, eight doubles and 18 home runs in Buford’s most recent championship winning season, credits much of her success to the ideals her father instilled in her at a very early age. His most memorable message was that bat speed generates power, so despite 18 of her 47 hits leaving the ballpark last year, Thomas doesn’t like to think of herself as a power hitter.

“It’s not so much as I’m just going out to hit runs because I’m just not that type of person,” Thomas said. “But because of my bat speed that I created when I was little, it helps me because now the pitchers are throwing harder. So with my bat speed and the velocity of the ball coming to me, it just happens to go over the fence every now and then.”

Six months have passed since Thomas won her third straight state championship as a member of the Lady Wolves, but softball is very much a year-round sport for the rising senior.

Thomas trains at the TPM Fastpitch Softball Training School in Norcross. She has a hitting instructor that she goes to every week and hits for about 30 minutes to an hour. She also has fielding lessons with her fielding instructors and on top of that, she’s always practicing with her Georgia Impact travel ball coaches, but that’s not all. On top of all that, if she ever has any free time, she’ll call up a few friends who she knows shares the same drive and determination that she has to get better, and they’ll all go out to a field and just hit and field grounders.

“I feel like you can’t take a day off in softball,” said Thomas. “You try to take every day that you’re free, if you don’t have school, you try to go out and better your game. I just call people all the time and say ‘Hey, you want to go out to the field, let’s go out to the field’ and then pick them up and go.”

All of this hard work has certainly paid off for Thomas. In addition to all of her awards, accolades and championships, Thomas has accepted an offer to play softball for the University of Virginia after her Buford career comes to a close.

Thomas chose the Cavaliers over Georgia State and Ole Miss because she wants to be an aeronautical engineer. Virginia offered Thomas a full-ride scholarship as a freshman and 90 percent paid for the next three years.

“I really went towards the University of Virginia because of the scholarship money and because I really like the historical feature that the University of Virginia has,” said Thomas. “So that kind of drew me there.”

With her future plans in place, Thomas is hoping to lead the Lady Wolves to yet another state championship, this time as a senior.

As a junior, Thomas had the luxury of playing under a 10-player senior class highlighted by the likes of fellow Gainesville Times All-Area selections Baylee Sexton, Drew Puckett, Peyton Wolfe and Kennedy Kotula. This coming season, Thomas will be the standout of a senior class that consists of just herself and three others (Chandler Wright, Rebecca Wilson and Katrina Herring).

“I think that I do have to take more of a leadership role because (last year’s seniors) were all phenomenal leaders,” said Thomas. “I feel like my class coming up this year isn’t as big, so my class has to cover a lot more ground when it comes to leadership.

“I feel like I really have to step up to the game and just try to be a better leader and build off what (the seniors) set last year and the seniors before them set so that we never lose that sense of family and never lose that sense of pride in Buford softball.”

Undoubtedly, Thomas has some big shoes to fill as the 2016 version of the Buford Lady Wolves softball team will be placed on her shoulders or, perhaps more appropriately, placed on her bat. Her and her teammates will be seeking an unprecedented 10th consecutive GHSA softball state championship.

“I feel like (winning state) is a goal,” Thomas said of her school’s impressive run of consecutive state titles. “We’re not required to win state every year, and we haven’t been required to win it for the past nine years. It’s just a goal that we set in our minds saying ‘Hey, let’s go win it. We have all the tools and we have all the resources to do it, let’s just do it’ and then we end up doing it.”

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