BUFORD — Some softball teams win championships with an aggressive, power-heavy approach at the plate. Others rely on pinpoint pitching.
Buford’s softball team relies on both, and they have among the state’s best in each discipline.
The Lady Wolves’ record seventh straight state championship this season featured a cast of key standouts, but none left an impact quite like Morgan Walters and Bria Bush. The senior slugger and junior ace helped Buford finish the year 37-1, yet another dominant campaign for one of the state’s most storied softball programs.
Walters wrapped up her high school career with a 17-home run, 60-RBI season, leaving her just one home run short of the team’s single-season record. She finished the year with a .485 average and set school records in OPS (1.673) and slugging percentage (1.087).
Bush enjoyed a dominant year on the mound, going 18-1 with a 0.61 ERA and 109 strikeouts over 103 2/3 innings of work. She logged 16 complete games, 11 of them for shutouts.
For their efforts, Walters is The Times’ Softball Player of the Year and Bush is The Times’ Softball Pitcher of the Year.
“They’re the most unselfish kids we have in our program,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “They played all year that way, and at the end of the year the accolades and honors kept rolling in for them.”
And they were rewarded well. Both players will play for SEC teams in college, with Walters signing with Missouri in November. Bush is committed to Tennessee.
For Walters, inking her scholarship capped off a whirlwind of a senior year that didn’t even include Buford softball a year ago.
The 2013 season was her first with the Lady Wolves after a successful stint with Class A’s Mount Pisgah, where she won a state title in 2012 and was named Class A State Player of the Year.
“It was a big adjustment, coming in from a small school, playing with small competition,” Walters said. “Coming from that and coming to a big program with so many state championships and so many accomplishments, I wanted to step up and prove myself. I felt like it was a really great environment for me to be able to do that.”
Walters fit in immediately, playing first base, third base and outfield throughout the season. Her tape-measure home runs booming over outfield walls became commonplace in the Buford lineup.
She credits the incredible development of her power to hitting coach Todd Greene, an MLB catcher from 1996-2006 and an Alpharetta-based scout with the Arizona Diamondbacks. She has trained with him since she was 12.
“I learned from over the years that you can have a bad swing and still get a hit out of it,” Walters said. “For me, it’s just not being satisfied with that. I want to maximize my abilities with every swing, because you never know if it’s going to be your last one.”
Walters ended up playing some of her best softball of the season down the stretch, despite a nagging illness during the postseason. She hit .545 with four home runs during the state tournament, as Buford outscored opponents in Columbus 31-6.
With another state title within her grasp, she had never felt healthier.
“I think it was because I got sick that I wanted to step up and do so well,” she said. “Having that challenge and having to come through that made me that much better.”
Bush’s remarkable season followed up a record-setting 2012 campaign, when she won a team-best 22 games. She lowered her ERA by 0.38 and continued to fool hitters with her incredible control.
She won’t ignite the radar gun, but with an arsenal of pitches that includes a curveball, screwball, rise ball and changeup, she’s certainly not hanging anything in front of the batter.
“I’m not going to blow past anybody — I’m not the fastest girl out there by any means,” Bush said. “I focus mainly on spin, because I think you trick girls more than you can overpower them.
“Once you get to a certain age, nobody is going to blow it past a batter. You have to trick them.”
Bush’s toughest foes at the plate are likely waiting for her in the SEC, including one she’s already familiar with.
Bush and Walters will both be playing in the SEC East beginning in 2015, meaning a pair of high school teammates could end up facing each other for the first time on a much higher stage.
“I think it will be kind of fun,” Bush said. “I’m going to do what I’ve always done and she’s going to do what she’s always done. Of course I won’t want her to get a hit against me, but I’m going to want her to have that victory of getting a hit.”
Should that day come, reminiscing on Buford’s 2013 season might give Walters the best scouting report of Bush that anyone has.
“Obviously we’re friends, so it’s just a matter of, ‘Hey struck me out, she did a great job,’ because I care about her and I want her to do well,” Walters said. “I want her to succeed. It’s honestly just a matter of who wins and who doesn’t.”