LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- The LaFayette Lady Ramblers are ready for prime time.
LaFayette, off to a roaring 11-0 start to the high school softball season, will play the first home game under lights in school history tonight against Walker County rival Ridgeland. The new lights, the great start and a talented young roster have optimism at a new level for a program that hasn't made the playoffs since 2007.
"We're very excited about being able to play under the lights," coach Glen Woodard said. "The big issue is the heat and the ability for us to avoid it early in the season, and it means a lot to the girls. We're also playing well, which only adds to the excitement."
LaFayette, which is averaging six runs per game, might be ahead of schedule. Woodard is starting three freshmen and a sophomore, including freshman shortstop Madison Harris, who has been the team's biggest individual surprise.
"I thought we would struggle at shortstop, because you just don't see freshmen come in and handle such a demanding position," Woodard said. "But Madison has taken it from the start and run with it. We also start freshmen at second (Kaleigh Goff) and center field (Shayla Ludy), two more key defensive positions, but so far you would never know they're freshmen."
Woodard does lean heavily on his three senior starters, including four-year starting third baseman Shelby Narmore, who also has been pleasantly surprised by the play of the new arrivals.
"Everybody looks at us with all these freshmen playing and immediately think we can't be that good," said Narmore, who joins fellow seniors Savanna Reeves and Cassie Phillips as team leaders. "But they don't act like freshmen. Mentally, physically and emotionally they are into every game. We knew they were talented since they went undefeated as eighth-graders, but they've stepped right in and we've taken off."
It's appropriate that LaFayette's first night home game welcomes Ridgeland, which also is getting new lights for its field. Woodard and new Ridgeland coach Richie Wood combined efforts to get the lights, and the Walker County school board came through.
"We typed up some letters and pushed hard for it, and the county found the money," Woodard said. "For us it helps with more than just the heat. We can now have junior varsity and varsity doubleheaders, which allows us to keep our JV together. It's also good for our parents, who can now come to the games after work without missing anything."
In a loaded region that also includes reigning state champion Northwest Whitfield and perennial power Heritage, the Lady Ramblers want to join the playoff party.
"After an improved Ridgeland team we get Northwest and Heritage, so we'll find out real quick where we stand," Woodard said. "Right now we're probably a third-place team behind those two, but I do believe we can compete with them. We want this program to be mentioned in the same breath with those two, but we have to earn it."
They'll get their chance this week.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.