She then hit Joy Lowery with a pitch and allowed a two-out single to Bryanna Vazquez to load the bases.
South Cobb had just taken a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third and was in danger of giving that margin away, so, when Rhodes forced Rachel Bartoe to hit a line drive that was chased down by center fielder Keajuana Crymes for the final out, Lady Eagles coach Mark Collins jumped into the air with his arms raised to celebrate the effort from his team, which ultimately resulted in a 5-4 eight-inning victory.
Historically, that may not have been the kind of effort seen from South Cobb, but that’s just the kind of effort the Lady Eagles have been producing this season.
Behind the stellar pitching of Rhodes, South Cobb is off to an 8-2 start — its best in team history — and it could go 2-0 in region play for the first time with a win over Marietta tonight.
“These girls deserve a whole lot more respect than they get,” Collins said. “These girls work very hard, and they’re fighting for respect. That’s what I like about this group. They want to be respected, so they go out and they battle.”
South Cobb’s tenacity starts with Rhodes. The shy 5-foot-6 junior right-hander is in her second season as the Lady Eagles’ primary starter in the circle and her third as a member of the varsity team.
Rhodes was introduced to the game by her mother, Donna, five years ago, and she’s been playing the sport every since.
“I love everything about softball,” Rhodes said. “The running, pitching, hitting, playing defense — it’s just exciting. It’s the first sport I’ve every played, and it’s only one I play and I just love it.”
Initially a first baseman, Rhodes began pitching three years ago after another pitcher suggested she try it. She plays travel ball with the Campbell Blitz and receives pitching instruction from Barbara Reed of Premier Sports Services and South Cobb assistant coach Kenny Hicks.
“I think (Hicks) does a great job with her,” Collins said. “They have a good connection. He’s excellent and knows what buttons to push. She’s gotten in better shape, and she’s quicker to the plate than she was last year and she’s stronger.
“I’ve had very few athletes in my years of coaching baseball and softball where nothing bothers them. Brittany is like that. Nothing bothers her. She can strike out 10 the same as if she walks 10, and she’ll just walk off the field. You really can’t coach that. She’s a pleasure to coach and is one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around.”
As Rhodes’ experience has grown, so has her confidence and her effectiveness. In 35 innings pitched this season, she is 6-1 with a 1.71 ERA.
“Last year, we got beat because my pitching was very slow,” she said. “Now, it’s better and faster, and I’m more confident. It feels great to know that the team has confidence in me when I’m out there. There’s a little bit of pressure, but I’m OK, and I try to pitch the best that I can for them. We have a lot of freshmen, and I try to lead by example.”
Without a junior varsity team, South Cobb sometimes has to rely on young players to fill its roster. This year’s squad includes five freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and three seniors.
“We’re very young, but we’re strong up the middle,” said Collins, who started two freshmen and three sophomores against North Cobb. “We have a lot of freshman playing, but they play well.”
Freshmen starters included designated player Miriah Byk and second baseman Emily Cargle, while the sophomore starters were shortstop Asia Moore, catcher Becky Collins and first baseman Alijah Lebouf. In the outfield were juniors Stephanie Cantrell and Bre Hubbert, along with the senior Crymes.
“When Asia has to go (in the circle) behind Brittany, Asia throws strikes,” Collins said. “We have the potential to do a lot more. The best thing about this team is we have a couple of seniors, so we have a lot of growth over the next two to three years. We have an opportunity to be very competitive, but we have to learn to play together, and when we learn that, we’ll be OK.
Senior third baseman Jaynisha White has enjoyed seeing the team’s growth over the years. South Cobb made its first and only state playoff appearance in 2010 en route to winning a team-record 14 games. The Lady Eagles have already tied their win total from last season and are on pace to post their best season yet.
“It all starts with having amazing coaches that help us with everything,” White said. “We have hard-working players who try their best, and everybody pumps each other up.
“I always tell the girls to keep a positive attitude. When you mess up, just shake it off. Forget about the play and play hard the next one.”
And what does White think about the 8-2 start?
“I expected us to be 10-0, so I’m not surprised we’re off to a good start,” she said. “I think we’re good enough to be 10-0. Our two losses were by one run, so we’re right there.”