This past week, the strategy paid off in the most fruitful way imaginable.
With a roster that featured a core group of players from Northwest Georgia, the Shorter squad roared through the NAIA national tournament with a 7-0 record and captured the first national championship in the program’s history with a 1-0 win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
The echoes of celebration resonated throughout Rome and the surrounding areas, as local fans rejoiced with their hometown representatives.
“This is an accomplishment that can truly be shared by our community — the Rome area, the Greater Rome area and Northwest Georgia,” said Thomas.
“Each of the local players played a part during the run, ... and that means so much to me.”
Thomas has made a habit of dipping into the local talent pool throughout his career at Shorter, and this season his team’s roster featured seven players from Northwest Georgia who are from high schools located within 60 miles of the Shorter campus.
The group includes Kellee Stone and Kaitie Kiser (who starred at Rockmart High), Kristen Little (Cedartown), Charlsie Broome and Emily Clements (both from LaFayette), Bre Johnson (Calhoun), and Maddie Bray (LFO).
Most of the members of that group grew up competing in the same leagues, and virtually all of them had been on the field together — either as teammates or as opponents — prior to coming to Shorter.
Those ties apparently facilitated the team’s ability to function as a unit.
“We had perfect chemistry,” said Broome. “We really respected each other, and everybody had everybody’s back.”
Stone, the speedster from Rockmart, said that the local connections that many of the Lady Hawks shared could not be underestimated.
“I think it played a pretty good role (in the title run),” said Stone. “Most of us have been friends off the field (before Shorter), … and we were a family this season.
“Winning the championship was all of our dreams,” Stone said, “and everyone on the team was willing to sacrifice for it.”
Johnson, the former Calhoun star who was Shorter’s starting third baseman this season, agreed that having previous ties with many of her teammates was an advantage.
“It takes the edge off,” said Johnson, “because (entering the season) everyone knows what each other is capable of doing. It helps with chemistry, and it makes it easy to pinpoint what you need to work on.”
The Shorter players said that winning the championship spoke volumes about the caliber of softball in Greater Rome.
“People kind of doubt this area, but it’s a lot tougher than people think,” said Johnson. “This really put us on the map.”
“I think it shows we have some good competition up here,” added Broome.
Stone, Kiser, Johnson, Broome and Clements all played in the same region — 7-AA — during high school. (Broome and Clements played at LaFayette when the Lady Ramblers were still members of 7-AA before they moved up to 7-AAA).
“Our region really prepared us for college,” said Stone, who helped Rockmart continue its dominance in the region. “Almost every team we played was great competition.”
The two LaFayette High stars on the Shorter squad — Broome and Clements — teamed up to make an enormous impact in the championship game on Wednesday.
Broome prevented Oklahoma City from taking the lead in the ninth inning with a home-run robbing catch (which was featured on ESPN’s Top Plays on Wednesday night).
Broome then led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple, and Clements drove her in with a single to give Shorter the walk-off win.
“I feel like me and Emily work so well together,” said Broome. “Growing up together, we really bonded well.”
That bond carried all the way through their senior season, ultimately leading to a national championship.
“We have been waiting for this for so long,” said Broome. “It was kind of bittersweet knowing that our careers are over. But it was the best way to go out.”