Dawson County senior Jenna Abbott injured her shoulder last spring, putting her hopes of pitching in her final high school softball season in jeopardy.
For Abbott, that was unacceptable.
The first doctor she went to told her she would need surgery, and would be out eight months.
So she went to get a second opinion, going to Dr. James Andrews, the doctor for her soon-to-be teammates at Auburn University, who prescribed rehab, but no surgery.
It all paid off late in the 2012 regular season against the Region 7-AAA favorites, five-time defending state champs Buford, who would go on to win a sixth in Columbus.
She had yet to pitch a full game, working her way up from three innings a start.
“About the fourth inning of the game coach Pruett said, ‘you’re good?’ and I said, ‘leave me in.’ I think I was just really determined to win that game; I was not coming out.”
The Lady Tigers (19-10-1) won the game 5-3 and clinched the region title, a signature moment in a historic season for Dawson County, which reached the second round of the state playoffs.
“It was awesome that we made it that far, but I felt like we could have made it to the elite eight or final four or even the championship. But we made school history,” she said. “And the Buford game was definitely a highlight; people definitely remember it.
“We’re just little old Dawson County and we beat big bad Buford.”
It was Abbott’s first complete game of the season in the circle, but it was just one of a number of big games. Her rehabbing didn’t effect her bat, and she had a career year as a first baseman, leading the area in hitting (.611 batting average), one base percentage (.747) and finishing second in home runs (7).
For her efforts Abbott is The Times Softball Player of the Year.
Her offensive numbers stood out in her final season.
“It’s really something else. She was good from Day 1 as a freshman — we knew we had a special player back then — but she’s gotten stronger and smarter,” Dawson County coach Jimmy Pruett said. “Her numbers this year were through the roof, and she was like that from Day 1. She’s just a natural hitter with power.”
Abbott said she had more time to focus on hitting with the shoulder issue (caused from overworking the arm through a high school season and travel ball), so she spent the time she would have been at pitching lessons doing batting practice with her father.
It paid off.
While most of her numbers stayed pretty consistent, she simply refused to make outs, and reached base in nearly three of every four plate appearances.
And while she was recruited to Auburn as both a first baseman and pitcher, her first passion lies in the circle, which made it imperative that she be able to contribute as a pitcher in her senior season.
“At one time we didn’t know whether she’d be able to pitch at all, so for her to be able to pitch early in the season, even limited innings, was a big boost to the team,” Pruett said. “She rehabbed really hard with her shoulder, and it showed her will and determination, and that she’s a team player too; she wanted our team to go as far as we could possibly go.
“Some players would say, ‘I’m going to college, why risk it,’ but she wanted to play, she wanted to pitch. That speaks volumes about her character.”
Next up is Auburn — a town she likened to Dawsonville for its friendliness and small-town feel — and the chance to once again play against Buford’s best.
Two 2011 graduates are already headed to the SEC for the spring season — Lexi Overstreet (Tennessee, ranked fifth at the end of last season) and Kallie Case (No. 1 Alabama) — and are playing for the conferences top two teams.
Abbott, with an arm back at full strength and a bat only getting more dangerous, will get to be the underdog once again when she finally suits up for Auburn (33rd after last season) after graduating from Dawson County, where she’s already helped make history.