The Ringgold senior pitcher/infielder was already established as one of the area's best after earning all-North Georgia honors last year and signing with Mercer University. However, it took adversity for the three-year starter to become a star.
When ace pitcher Matthew Crownover was lost for the season after undergoing elbow surgery in early March, Kafka not only stepped into the top pitcher's role, he thrived in it. Pitching all the team's tough games against stout Region 7-AAA competition, including a four-hit shutout at Cartersville, he won five regular season games and added four more in the playoffs in leading the Tigers to the championship series against Columbus.
In addition, he batted .511 with six homers, 16 doubles and 37 RBIs and notched his name alongside the greats in Ringgold program history.
"Corey just stepped up and took this team over when Matthew went down," coach Brent Tucker said. "He played his best in the biggest games and never let the pressure get to him."
To say the past year has been a whirlwind for the veteran Ringgold High School coach would be a serious understatement. Two days before leading the Tigers into the GHSA Class AAA championship series against Columbus at Bill Womack Field, Tucker tried to recount the past 12 months. Specifically, he was asked how many days over that time were spent away from baseball and the rebuilding effort caused by last April's tornado.
"This past year, all I know is I went on vacation, there was Christmas day and there was Easter Sunday," he said. "Those are the only three days I know I didn't come up here to the field. It's been over a year since it happened, and sometimes it feels like it happened just yesterday and sometimes it seems like a million years ago."
None of it _ even the additional setback of losing star player Matthew Crownover to injury _ slowed the Tigers as they won a tough Region 7 title and three playoff rounds before losing to the nationally-ranked Blue Devils for their second runner-up trophy in three seasons. Eight seniors graduate from a program that went 81-23 the past three years and ended the season ranked inside the ESPN top 50 prep rankings.
"It's been a heck of a run," he said. "These guys have done everything that's been asked of them and they've made a school and a community awfully proud of them."
While splitting time between catcher and third base the Troy University signee hit .415 with 34 RBIs, a homer, three triples and 18 doubles.
He hit .419 with 17 doubles and posted a 7-2 record with a 1.62 ERA that included a one-hit shutout against Sequatchie County in the District 7-AA tournament.
The slick-fielding shortstop sparked the Tigers' offense with a .440 average, five homers, 16 doubles, 29 RBIs and led the team with 41 runs scored.
He scored 51 runs, largely because of a .520 batting average and 55 stolen bases. He hit seven home runs, 11 doubles and two triples and finished with 27 RBIs.
Already a two-year starter, he hit .418 with 20 RBIs as the Red Raiders' leadoff man, stealing 15bases and adding three home runs, two of which came against rival McCallie.
He hit .377 with 35 RBIs, three home runs, eight doubles and a triple but made his impact on the mound, posting a 0.56 ERA with 11 wins and 97 strikeouts in 12 games.
This two-time all-star and likely Major League Baseball draftee led the Yellow Jackets into the Class AA playoffs with a .460 average, seven homers, 37 RBIs and 34 runs scored.
A first-year starter for the Warriors, he led the team with a .401 average and seven homers, including two against Pepperell to get LFO into the Class AA playoffs. He added 28 RBIs and eight doubles.
The lefty had an 8-0 record with seven complete games, allowing just six earned runs while striking out 99 and posting a 0.77 ERA.
While he hit .385 for the year, Towne posted a .545 batting average with runners in scoring position. It was as a pitcher that he excelled, though, not giving up an earned run while striking out 88 on his way to a 9-1 record that included six shutouts. He also had two saves.
The future Chattanooga State Tiger was strong at the plate and on the mound for the state runner-up Tigers, hitting .390 with 33 RBIs and winning nine games with an ERA of 1.02, including a 12-strikeout shutout in the second round of the playoffs.
He's headed to Bryan College after leading the Generals into the Class AAA playoffs with a .440 average, four homers and 13 doubles. The four-year starter also excelled behind the plate and had two of his best games of the season against Ringgold and Cartersville, going 5-for-6.
Ringgold (29-8): The Tigers overcame the loss of their best player to win the Region 7-AAA championship and advance to the GHSA championship series, where they fell to a three-peating Columbus.
Walker Valley (29-13): The Mustangs won District 5-AAA's regular season title and finished runner-up in the postseason tournament before capturing Region 3-AAA and sectional titles. They were a win away from the state championship game.
South Pittsburg (32-9): The Pirates won both District 6-A titles before capturing Region 3-A and sectional championships.
Matt Allen South Pittsburg OF Senior
Sheldon Brogden Notre Dame OF Senior
Spencer Craig Baylor C Senior
Dominique Dawson Central IF Junior
Kevin Dupree Ooltewah IF Junior
Dakota Hudson Sequatchie County IF Junior
Spencer Mossburg Silverdale Baptist P Junior
Austin Norrell Calhoun P Senior
Travis Nunley Dade County IF Junior
Reese Phillips Signal Mountain P Junior
Caden Ricketts Soddy-Daisy Utility Sophomore
Josh Swinford Coahulla Creek OF Senior
Hadyn Bailey Soddy-Daisy IF Senior
Conard Broome Gordon Lee P Freshman
Daniel Deocampo Lakeview-F.O. OF Senior
Luke Gilleland Trion Utility Junior
Alan Mocahbee Ringgold IF Senior
Austin Parrish Ringgold OF Junior
Seth Pierce NW Whitfield P Freshman
Tyler Phillips Red Bank C Junior
Cody Sherlin Heritage IF Senior
Jake Stone South Pittsburg IF Junior
Hunter Parker East Hamilton OF Sophomore
Jonah Paul Chattanooga Christian P Senior