The graduation of a big senior class last season left Southwest DeKalb wondering if it would be able to build on its streak of three straight state softball appearances.
Senior leadership by Davynn Brown and solid play by a promising group of underclassmen has put the Panthers into the AAAA state tournament for the fourth straight year.
The team earned the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAA with an 8-7 win over North Springs on Wednesday, Oct. 8. Southwest played at Sequoyah in a double-header Oct. 7 in a best-of-three first-round series.
“We lost a lot of good players, and we realized we couldn’t just walk onto the field and win,” Brown said.
Sophomore Trenece Nash and junior Imani Gayle have emerged as two of the top hitters in the county.
Gayle is third among public-school players with a .571 batting average. She has three home runs and 14 RBIs. Gayle, also the team’s starting pitcher, is 7-7 with a 2.99 earned run average.
Nash, who hit a home run against North Springs, is hitting .533 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
Brown is hitting .422 with two home runs and 12 RBIs. She had two hits against North Springs, including the game-winning RBI double that bounced off the third base bag and into left field.
“I think we have more heart this year, and we’ve worked harder,” Nash said. “We’ve come together as a team, and we don’t let little things bother us.”
The North Springs game is a good example of how the Panthers have learned to persevere. North Springs beat Southwest 7-5 in the regular season. Southwest found themselves down 7-6 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning in the region tournament. Gayle drove in the tying run and made second base on a throw to the plate. Then Brown stepped up and drilled the game-winning hit.
“We have stayed focused and put in a lot of work,” Gayle said. “We make sure we’re prepared for every game.”
Southwest has emerged as one of the top public school programs in the county. The Panthers entered the state tournament at 9-9-1 and have won at least 10 games in each of the three previous seasons.
Brown has been part of the past four state playoff teams and knows the importance of continuing to build the softball tradition at Southwest.
“We’ve really had a good batch of players come through in the last five or six years,” Brown said. “There’s a sense of pride, and we want to give that to the people that come after us.”