GMC News

It doesn’t get much better than the GMC Middle School softball team September 18, 2010 It doesn’t get much better than the GMC Middle School softball team A 10-0 record and undefeated in three years, these Lady Bulldogs know everything it takes to win Brent Martin CNHI CNHI Sat Sep 18, 2010, 08:00 AM EDT MILLEDGEVILLE — Sometimes everything comes together on the diamond. Perhaps the greatest example of class, hard work, discipline and team work in Baldwin County is the GMC Middle School softball team. The Lady Bulldogs have built an unbeaten streak that spans three years and possess a confidence and level of softball smarts seldom seen at such a young level. Coaches Jennifer Spencer and Drew Santarone have the luxury of working with one of the deepest and most talented softball units in all of Georgia, and the unique, close-knit chemistry amongst the players is something truly remarkable to see. The team has several leaders, mostly in the seventh grade ranks, and every single, solitary player has an important role that allows the team to keep cranking out runs, strikeouts and victories. “This year we have mostly sixth and seventh graders. Seven of the seventh graders actually play together on the same travel ball team,” said Spencer. “They have really good unity and have a good support system. They know what their strengths and their weaknesses are.” One of the team’s best qualities is that each individual player has the ability and know-how to play any position on the field, something that comes in handy during the most grueling championship duels. “The best thing about them is they aren’t just one position. They don’t just pitch, they don’t just play third. We can put most of them anywhere on the field and they are going to do well,” said Spencer. “With our batting and the lineup we have a lot of girls who are really consistent. They have it in their head that they are going to get a hit.” Spencer added the team has a couple of power hitters, and they know where to put them in the lineup. The team also gets a tremendous boost from the younger players because they are always very patient at the plate. “Sinclair Harding is a great bunter. She can lay it down wherever and it will just stop,” said Spencer. “It’s amazing.” The coaches also made mention that they get a lot of support from the players’ parents, and that they also play a big part in the team’s success. “We have wonderful parents. They prepare little snacks for us for the games, make sure we are fed between the games. We have tons of mamas and daddies that help out. We couldn’t do it without them,” said Spencer. The Lady Bulldogs are currently 10-0 on the season after beating Landmark Christian in two shutout games earlier in the week. “We found out before the game that they were going to move their eighth graders down to play the game. So we were going up against sixth, seventh and eighth graders. They had seen some or our girls through travel ball and knew what we’d bring, but I think they were disappointed in the end,” said Spencer with a dimpled smile. The first game versus Landmark Christian started out slow at first, but then the Lady Bulldog bats started revving up like a General Motors assemply plant. “Once they saw the pitcher and got used to her then they started getting hits. They faced her again in the second game and they were ready to go,” said Spencer. The team is certainly ready to go, and coach Santarone said their talent has others at GMC quite excited. “Garry Couch told me one day that he might have to stay here a couple of more years just to coach these kids,” said Santarone. “They are the hardest working group of kids I’ve ever had. We make them work hard, but they don’t mind. At 5:30 or six o’clock when practice is over, they don’t want to go home.” Santarone, who himself has coached the team for almost five years, has only seen the GMC Middle School lose a couple of games during that period, which is astonishing. The winning recipe is simple. “They don’t want to lose. It’s not in their vocabulary to even think about it,” said Santarone. GMC Middle rarely trails in ball games and are usually intent on establishing early scoring bursts, and then rely on the powerful arms of pitchers Sutton Long and Sarah Margaret Mason. If the team is threatened by an opponent, one can certainly feel the tension in the dugout. “I think our very first game was the only game where we were actually down. And I remember being in that dugout and it was a totally different group of children,” said Spencer. “They only like to win and they are going to do whatever is possible.” Two sixth graders that were mentioned during the discussion that have already had an impact on the program is Lilly Bartlett and Taylor Curtis, and both coaches eyes lit up when they mentioned those names. “You’ll probably hear their names the next couple of years. They both have a lot of natural talent,” said Spencer. “We call Lilly ‘Catfish’ because I picked her up one day and told her I’d caught catfish bigger than she was,” said Santarone with a chuckle. Perhaps nobody has a say in the whole matter more than the players themselves. And several young Lady Bulldogs stepped to the plate earlier in the week to answer a few questions about their successful run and tell all of Baldwin County why being a GMC Bulldog is so special. “We just go out there and say that if they aren’t better than you, then don’t let them beat you,” said seventh grader Sutton Long. “It’s important to give 110 percent when you go out there and play. That’s really important.” Two players that are virtually identical in appearance, and who are both equally as dangerous on the base path, are twin sisters Kaylie and Karlie Harding. Both coaches noted that both seventh graders have sprouted in height over the last year, and both sisters reiterated that each player on the team has each other’s back during each and every contest. “We just work together and we know that we can trust those behind us to make the play,” said Kaylie. “We love representing our school and we just depend on everyone to get our back and we always know how they will hit it, and that everybody will do a great job,” said Karlie. When Long isn’t on the mound frustrating batters, chances are seventh grader Sarah Margaret Mason is doing the same. Mason plays outfield and other positions when Long is on the mound, and loves playing her favorite sport with her closest pals. “I’m just really proud that I get to play with my friends. I get to see them every day at practice,” said Mason. “We practice like we play. We have to be responsible for getting here to practice and make sure our uniform is in line the day of a game. If not, we don’t get to play.” Eighth grader Katie Lewis was also excited about being a leader on the team and helping her younger teammates whenever possible. She also loves the thrill of having familiar faces in the stands. “When I look out in the stands I can see all of our friends and family supporting us,” said Lewis. “That’s the best thing to me. They are supporting our team and our school, and that’s great.” Perhaps GMC Middle School’s biggest secret to their success is their motto, which speaks volumes to young athletes in the area who want to get ahead the right way. “Hard work beats talent and talent doesn’t work hard,” said seventh grader Sinclair Harding as her surrounding teammates nodded in approval. Perhaps coach Santarone made the best point during the discussion when he demonstrated just how much the players care for one another during practice. “You see what she’s doing there?” said Santarone as he motioned toward two girls at first base. “She is coaching her, the sixth grader. And that is what we have here. They want to succeed and they are going to help each other out.” Santarone also pointed out that he was proud of his daughter, coach Spencer, and all that she had accomplished since her playing days at GMC Prep (softball and basketball). Spencer has coached cheerleading for five years, coached basketball and other sports and really gets a tremendous kick out of coaching GMC’s Middle School team. “I’m so excited. Last year was my first year coaching basketball and daddy helped me. So, I really wanted to coach softball, and I think what’s interesting with them is that they’ve never actually had a female coach,” said Spencer. “And I’m able to tell coach Santarone what they are really feeling, because they can relate to me. I can sometimes sweet-talk the men coaches into what needs to be done. I think it’s good for them to have that dynamic.” GMC Middle School will look to extend their winning streak Sept. 20 when Eagles Landing comes to Couch Field starting at 4:30 p.m. The team will face Louisville Sept. 21 at 5 p.m.