Sydney Sprague didn’t know she was hitting .431 for the Columbus softball team so far this season. She also didn’t know that was the highest average for the Lady Blue Devils.
When told that was the case, the senior shortstop gave a confused look, laughed and shrugged her shoulders.
“I didn’t know,” she said with a laugh. “I guess I just kind of focus on getting the job done.”
The job this year is filling the cleats of Alexis Jones, last year’s leadoff hitter and a senior presence on a young team that finished fifth in the Class AAAA state tournament.
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While Sprague admits she was a little nervous about taking over such a crucial role in the lineup, the resulting success has been undeniable. Setting the table, she has helped lead her team to a 15-6 record, 7-2 in the region, and an average of 6.2 runs per game.
“Sometimes losing that one player can make a big difference,” coach Chad Mathis said in reference to the loss of Jones. “However, we’ve had some girls step up.”
Specifically, Sprague, he said. As the leadoff hitter, she has made sure the team didn’t miss a beat. While she can hit for power, she’s been a consistent threat for contact, both moving runners and driving them in, whatever the situation calls for.
“I was a little bit nervous at first,” Sprague said. “(The coaches) told me they kind of wanted me to be how Alexis was. But I realized they wouldn’t put me as leadoff for no reason. I’m always aggressive and always try 100 percent. I don’t strike out much, and if I do, I never strike out looking.”
That’s big for a leadoff hitter, whose main goal is to get on base and give players behind her in the order opportunities to drive her in.
“She’s had more at-bats than anybody on the team, and she’s leading the team in batting average,” Mathis said. “I don’t know the exact stats, but she’s probably up there in doubles and home runs, too.”
To help herself keep improving on her contact, Sprague said she and her teammates work hard in and out of practice. Sprague also plays travel ball throughout the offseason on the Georgia Peaches, where she was teammates with Alexis Jones before Jones’ graduation.
To help bat speed, her travel coach puts players through a speed drill, where softballs are tossed quickly and players must hit and return to their stance as fast as possible. It helps bat speed, Sprague said, as well as having quick wrists through the ball.
“You have to have quick hands,” she said. “That helps a lot.”
It’s been a success so far this year as Sprague has helped Columbus to the second-best region record in Region 5-AAAA. Mathis and the players are hoping that continues going forward. Without a region tournament this year, playoff seeding will be determined by regular season records, which means the top two teams get to host in the first round and also avoid highly-touted opponents Heritage-Catoosa and Northwest Whitfield out of Region 7-AAAA.
“Oh, yeah, we’re trying to (stay in the top two in the region),” Sprague said with a knowing look on her face.
“Last year, we were very fortunate to win the region,” Mathis said. “Without a region tournament this year, though, every game counts.”