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CITIZEN SOFTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Callie Alford

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

CONYERS -- It seems like Callie Alford was destined for this kind of fate on the softball field.

Four years ago, Alford was a freshman for Heritage, but was already showing signs of being a premier varsity player. Now, with the wraps on her final year as a Lady Patriot complete, there's no disputing Alford's membership as one of the state's elite high school players.

This past fall, Alford led the Lady Patriots to a 26-10 overall record (and 8-2 in Region 8-AAAA, second only to No. 4 Madison County) and the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament to help cap a remarkable four-year run at the prep level that included being selected the region's Player of the Year in 2010.

She completed her senior season with a .455 batting average, 47 runs, 19 RBIs and four home runs. For her achievements, Alford is the Citizen's All-Area Softball Player of the Year.

The veteran catcher will now take her talents to Georgia State University, where she signed a full scholarship last November.

The path from freshman varsity player to Division I catcher is one Heritage coach Dickey Hightower isn't surprised Alford took.

"Callie was a tremendous influence on the Heritage softball program from the moment she walked on the field as a ninth-grader," Hightower said. "She brought a great deal of softball and athletic ability into our program and while we had some pretty talented players, she fit right in with everyone."

Alford went from fitting in to catching full time by the onset of her sophomore season, which was also the first of three consecutive seasons on the Class AAAA All-State team. During those final three seasons, Alford willed herself into becoming one of the finest catchers in the state -- the finest, if you ask her coach.

"While I didn't see some of the good catchers in the state play, I would rank Callie as the best defensive catcher in the state and only behind a few offensively (and) only in power stats," Hightower said. "She took over all pitch calling and did a tremendous job. It was a very rare occurrence when a pitcher would shake her off; in fact, I don't remember (that happening) a single time.

"All our pitchers had a great deal of respect for her and knew she was in charge of the game behind the plate."

Although Georgia State is an established, successful college program, both Hightower and Alford were disappointed the catcher did not receive any other big-time college offers. Still, with full college eligibility available, there's always a chance another school will come calling before those four years are over.

"While I love Georgia State and their softball program, which is quite good, I do believe Callie has the ability to play at just about any Division I school," Hightower, a former assistant coach at Georgia State, said. "Callie may not be in a class of her own, but whatever class she is in it doesn't take long to call the roll. Everyone we played knew we had someone special behind the plate. She is definitely one of the best catchers I've ever seen."