Westfield’s Gilliam completes high school career as elite player

It wasn’t a bad senior season for Kelsey Gilliam.

She won 86.4 percent of her games and had a scoreless streak of 57 innings to go with a 1.03 ERA for Westfield.

At the plate, she hit .436 with eight doubles while driving in 18 runs.

Those are pretty good numbers, but not quite enough.

“Well, we didn’t win state, of course,” Gilliam said, “but other than that, it was a really good year.”

The GISA Class AAA title went to John Milledge, but Gilliam’s sterling numbers were enough for her to take All-Middle Georgia softball player of the year honors.

Head coach Julie Brooker took over during the summer for Rodney Culverhouse, Westfield’s head coach for two state titles. Brooker was at Tattnall Square for two years and knew Gilliam well.

“The year they won it, they beat us 11-10 in 10 innings in the final four,” Brooker said. “She was just a sophomore.”

Brooker definitely was anxious to start her new job.

“I was definitely looking forward to it,” she said. “What coach wouldn’t?”

The Hornets have reached the Final Four the past two seasons but haven’t quite gotten over the hump.

Gilliam has done her part, going 31-9 and helping the Hornets to a 25-4 mark this season.

Westfield won its ninth straight region championship, losing nothing with a new head coach. Brooker had a core of veterans, led by Gilliam, who was 12-6 with a 1.04 ERA as a junior, earning All-Middle Georgia second-team honors and yet another all-state citation.

Gilliam was named the school’s top offensive player for the 2008 season, adding that to all-state honors as well as Region 3-AAA MVP.

Brooker, who played in college at Georgia, brought an aggressive offensive approach to the Hornets, which Gilliam was ready for.

“Our team average went up a good bit this year,” Gilliam said. “(Brooker) has been on the college level and she has worked with us a lot. She’s a big offensive person.”

Gilliam was already working on some of the power-boosting techniques that Brooker taught, thanks to work with hitting coach Laurie Shepard of The Pitcher’s Mound in Duluth and travel team coach Jeff Pope.

“We were already working on some stuff I was doing wrong,” Gilliam said of workouts with Shepard. “(Brooker) knew ways to get a lot more power. The way of hitting has changed over the years, and there’s a new way of getting taught how to get more power.”

Gilliam’s future may be more as a pitcher, although she has played plenty of third base. She’s a control pitcher who has no idea what her fastball comes in at.

“I don’t like getting clocked,” said Gilliam, who also credited pitching coach Erin Bell. “I can hit my spots. I’m not overpowering by any means, but I can hit my spots.”

Those spots will be tougher to hit in college.

Gilliam signed an national letter-of-intent last month to play at Columbus State, a Division II program in the Peach Belt Conference and rival of Georgia College and State.

CSU finished 24-18 last season, 10-8 in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. How tough? Four teams won at least 38 games, and the league has put a team in the Division II World Series every year since the decade began, including the Cougars in 2007.

“They’ve got an awesome softball program,” said Gilliam, who also drew interest from Agnes Scott as well as junior colleges Central Alabama and South Georgia. “I didn’t really want to go to a big school.”

Brooker was happy that Gilliam hooked up with Columbus State, but also knows it’ll take work to make the adjustment from GISA to such an elite conference.

Gilliam has the mentality for it.

“Her nickname is ‘Ice,’ ” Brooker said. ”That’s what some other coaches and umpires have nicknamed her, because nothing shakes her. She’s very focused, sticks to her game plan. It’s hard to rattle her.”

As Westfield opponents know all too well.