Lady Bears dueling for another region title

October 3, 2012 

It’s October, so that means it’s time for the (seemingly) annual shout-out to the Houston County High School softball program.

The Lady Bears are scheduled to play a Final Four, double-elimination event at Augusta beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday that will decide the champion of GHSA Region 2-AAAAA. (Houston County advanced through the first round of the region playoff with a doubleheader sweep of Lakeside-Evans on Friday.) If successful -- a tall order considering the travel and the level of competition -- the Lady Bears will claim their seventh consecutive region title. That’s still shy of the dynasty for region titles the Warner Robins football program established from 1988 to 1997, but it’s pretty darn good.

The streak began in 2006 under former coach Christi Griffin, but head coach Angela Crawford and company have earned the last five. According to the GHSA record book, the program’s high-water mark (save a slow-pitch state championship in 1995) came in 2009 when the club won 31 games and finished as runnerup in the state’s largest classification. The Lady Bears blew through the region field that year, winning four games by a combined score of 40-5, according to data at gasports.com.

However, the program’s most satisfying region performance may have come a year later when, after the graduation of six collegiate-quality players, the Lady Bears avenged a semifinal loss to Northside with a pair of extra-inning victories in the championship round.

This year’s club has a similar makeup. Featuring just two seniors -- Callie Farmer and Alexis Spires -- Houston County is probably a year away from making real noise on the state level. The team’s roster features 10 players that are either freshmen or sophomores. Six of them start.

It’s a talented bunch, however, and includes several players who faced down the glare of the international spotlight as members of Little League Softball World Championship teams. Juniors Carson Carriker and Kelly Warner and sophomores Taylor Brown and Haley Tierce are all hitting around .500 against region competition.

Tierce and sophomore transfer Emily Hittinger handle the majority of the pitching duties. Hittinger has five wins against region opponents. Tierce has three. They’re a formidable, if not overpowering, duo. When Houston County’s defense is solid behind them, they are tough to beat.

Crawford is the program’s architect, but she’s had plenty of help, especially this season. The bride of Northside football coach Ryan Crawford, Angela delivered the couple’s third child (all boys) on Sept. 11. In addition to long-time assistant coaches Matt Hopkins and Katherine Wyatt, Crawford is being helped out by Houston County head baseball coach Jason Brett, who is serving as interim head coach.

Because she is on maternity leave, Crawford’s official duties are restricted. But she is able to offer moral support as an interested spectator. It’s a role she admits is “a little hard,” but she knows the team is in good hands.

It’s a good bet Crawford will be roaming the sidelines with her boys on Friday when Houston County and Northside tangle in football. And it’s a fair bet the program will have added another region title by that time.

Contact Chris Deighan at cdeighan@cox.net.

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