Last week, those who play professional baseball welcomed the Shorter University softball team to their diamond at State Mutual Stadium when the Rome Braves recognized the 2012 NAIA softball national champion Lady Hawks.
“For them to invite us is huge, it really is. It was unbelievable,” Shorter head coach Al Thomas, who has been with the program for seven years and as head coach for the past two seasons. He has accumulated a 99-26 record and was thankful for the honor the team received. “The girls had a great time.”
The Lady Hawks, all of them sporting their national champion T-shirts, took center stage behind home plate prior to the Braves’ South Atlantic League game against the Augusta Greenjackets.
The Braves took time to give the Lady Hawks due credit, with Rome manager Randy Ingle and general manager Mike Dunn congratulating each player and coach while the Braves themselves joined the crowd on hand in giving the Lady Hawks an enthusiastic ovation.
Shorter battled its way to the nation’s top NAIA spot setting a school record with 53 wins, including a perfect 7-0 mark in the national championship, and claimed the title of No. 1 team in the country for the first time in school history.
Yet as the Lady Hawks were introduced, special mention was made of several outstanding accomplishments the team had along the way to the national crown.
Honored for their softball abilities were the two players who were named NAIA All-Americans – recently graduated Charlsie Broome and junior Jackie Castaneda, who was also selected as the 2012 Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Thomas was also recognized for being named the NAIA Softball Coach of the Year, but perhaps the biggest applause came from the crowd on hand when they were informed that the Lady Hawks posted the country’s top grade point average among NAIA softball programs by posting a 3.57 team GPA for the 2011-12 academic year. Shorter also had five players named NAIA Scholar-Athletes, the most of any softball team in the NAIA.
“The Braves wanted to do this right after we won it,” said Thomas, “but as soon as we got back from winning the championship everyone headed home to begin their summer jobs. But now that we’re back in school, this was the first time we were all together.
"For Randy and Mike to come out and talk to the girls and shake their hands,” Thomas added. “It meant so much to the girls. And before the game we had so many people come up to us and congratulate us. It was humbling and an honor.”
Coach Thomas also announced some important dates for the program for this fall, both of which fans are encouraged to come support the team; October 6 will be the Blue/White Game for Alumni and Family and November 3 is the date for the program’s annual Border Battle for Breast Cancer event.