This was supposed to be the year Greenbrier's streak came to an end.
The Lady Wolfpack softball team has dominated the Augusta area for the past decade. Entering the 2006 season, Greenbrier had 10 region championship banners - one for every year since the school opened in 1996, including the 2004 Class AAAA state championship.
But the 2005 squad, which completed the year at 32-7 and was fifth in the state tournament, graduated seven senior starters. That left the 2006 roster almost fully depleted and gave Greenbrier's critics something to talk about. After 10 consecutive region titles, could 2006 be this year the streak was broken?
"This is my senior year, and I did not want to be the class that messed that up," Greenbrier senior Tiffany Blackburn said. "But when you're in a county with rival schools you're going to have people second-guess you."
Blackburn, the Lady Wolfpack's senior third baseman and The Augusta Chronicle's 2006 Softball Player of the Year, rallied her inexperienced teammates at the beginning of the year. The task wasn't easy. Region rival Lakeside had a record number of seniors on the team this year, and rival Evans was supposed to be even better.
Greenbrier softball coach Garrett Black said he knew the pressure was on.
"I heard a lot of comments at the beginning of the year, but I always said, 'We have Tiffany Blackburn, and they don't.' "
Blackburn quickly became the leader of the young squad that started just as many freshmen as seniors.
"I remember when I was a freshman I was intimidated by everybody," Blackburn, who was a ninth-grade starter, said. "Kaila (Hunt) and Ashlyn (Masters) are probably the best that's going to come through Greenbrier."
The two freshmen didn't disappoint this year. Hunt hit .381 this season with nine home runs and 33 RBI. Masters led the team with 38 runs scored and 13 doubles. Both were near perfect from their positions as middle infielders.
But it was Blackburn who made the biggest impact. The senior hit .446 this year with 48 RBI and a record-setting 10 home runs.
In the end, the Lady Wolfpack continued their region title streak with a 3-0 win over Lakeside in the Region 3-AAAA championship game.
Greenbrier went on to finish fourth in the Class AAAA tournament in Columbus, Ga., and Blackburn was named the Class AAAA Player of the Year.
Black said the numbers and awards don't tell half the story.
"These kids will be talking about some of the home run shows she put on in batting practice for a long time. I'm not talking four or five in a row. I'm talking more like 10 to 15," Black said. "Whoever takes over third base will have benefitted from playing with Tiffany just like she benefitted from the ones before her."
The girls before her include Kristan and Amanda Glover, two sisters who graduated from Greenbrier in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
Kristan Glover was named Class AAAA Pitcher of the Year during the Lady Wolfpack's 2004 state title run.
"They had some wars," Black said of the days when Glover faced Blackburn in batting practice."It probably went 50/50 between the two of them. They don't like to lose even in a scrimmage."
Blackburn recalled the friendly meetings with a humble smile.
"She always knew what to throw me. She knew I was a sucker for the rise ball," she said. "But it's like Coach Black said, 'You don't compete against each other, you complete each other.' "
With 16 school records including a .506 batting average her sophomore year, 147 career RBI and 17 career home runs, Blackburn has completed her high school career in style.
She'll continue to hone her softball skills at the college level as a member of the North Georgia Saints.
"The things that sold us on her were her attitude and work ethic," North Georgia softball coach Mike Davenport said.
"She has ability as far as hitting and fielding, and we could see she was being the leader."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 863-6165 or email@example.com.
Meet Tiffany Blackburn
The 2006 Augusta Chronicle Softball Player of the Year
All-area statline: Named Region 3-AAAA and Class AAAA Player of the Year after hitting .446 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI. In 121 at bats this season, Blackburn only struck out 16 times. She'll leave Greenbrier with 16 school records.
A few favorites of the 2006 Softball Player of the Year:
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: Wedding Crashers
Favorite athlete: Jeff Francoeur
Favorite place to play: Columbus Softball Complex. The annual site of the Georgia High School Association state softball tournament is the home of several Greenbrier softball feats, including Blackburn's 2004 state semifinals home run off of Stockbridge's Terese Gober, now a pitcher at Florida State, to send Greenbrier to the state finals. Black called the home run the "shot heard 'round the Greenbrier nation."
Favorite team: University of Georgia
What she'd like for Christmas: Money
Tuesday Cross Country
Friday Independent Schools football
Saturday South Carolina football
Sunday Georgia football
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