The Upson-Lee Lady Knights softball program took a step in the right direction last season, after finishing in third place in the Region 4 regular season with a 7-3 region record and a 10-10 record overall. However, the Lady Knights suffered a first round 6-4 loss to Dutchtown at home in the Region Tournament, ending their hopes of a trip to the State Playoffs.
In 2014 the Lady Knights will have a new captain at the helm of the ship, as Thomaston native Stephen Hammock will take over the Upson-Lee softball program. Over the last two years, Coach Hammock has been the junior varsity baseball coach and an assistant coach on the varsity baseball team at Upson-Lee.
Hammock is a 2007 graduate of Upson-Lee High School, where he played four years in the Knights baseball program under coaches Gary Sharpe and Wayne Puckett. In 2009 Hammock graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Secondary Education from Gordon State College, where he was also the official scorekeeper of the Highlanders’ baseball team. In 2011 Coach Hammock graduated from Columbus State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Secondary Education. Hammock was a member of the Mundy’s Mill Tigers baseball team as an assistant coach in 2012, a season where the Tigers finished with a 22-9 record and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the State Playoffs. In 2013 Coach Hammock came home to Upson-Lee to be a part of the Knights baseball program. Coach Hammock will earn his Master’s Degree in Sports Management from Georgia Southern University in December of this year. He and his wife Ava are expecting their first child, Elena Grace, later this year.
Coach Hammock and his staff are currently practicing three days a week, and I recently had a chance to sit down with him and find out his direction for the Lady Knights softball program. Here is what he had to say;
(McCard)- What are your plans for your first summer as the Lady Knights head coach?
(Hammock)- “We are starting with some softball related activities three days a week during May and June, and then we will go to four days a week in July when the season gets a little closer.”
(McCard)- After a few days with the young ladies, what are your thoughts on your 2014 team and the UL program?
(Hammock)- “We’ve got some very talented players with a great group of ninth grade players coming up this season who have played a lot of softball. I feel like with quality instruction, focus, dedication, and most importantly commitment, we could be one of the better teams in Region 2 this season. I think we have a shot to contend night in and night out and give ourselves a chance of making the State Playoffs.”
(McCard)- What do you feel is the most important thing for you and the Lady Knights to accomplish in your first summer as their head coach?
(Hammock)- “We need to get to a high level of competitiveness, but before that can happen we need to get to know each other. I need to get to know and evaluate them as players and they need to get to know me and what I expect of them. We need to identify our strengths and weaknesses and adjust our game accordingly. I want us to be hard to beat. When teams know they are playing the Lady Knights they need to know we are going to compete and we are there to win, plain and simple.”
(McCard)- The team finished one victory away from the State Playoffs last season; what do you know about your returning players?
(Hammock)- “We have some key players returning at different positions and we have a couple of positions to fill, but I expect our seniors to step up and be leaders not only on the field but the in classrooms and hallways of Upson-Lee High School.”
(McCard)- Tell me about your coaching staff.
(Hammock)- “I will be working with Coach Michael Kirby and Coach Michael Presley. Coach Kirby brings a wealth of knowledge to the team after being a head coach himself. He really knows a lot about the game, and will be very beneficial as a hitting coach for us. Coach Presley will be a community coach and knows many of these players after coaching them in the recreational league. He also brings a wealth of knowledge to our program. I’m excited to have these guys on board. They came to me wanting to help and wanting to be a part of the Lady Knights softball program. That showed me they are dedicated to this program.”
(McCard)- The Lady Knights will play in a new region this season. What can you tell me about Upson-Lee’s Region 2 opponents?
(Hammock)- “I know that Veterans, West Laurens, and Perry are three really competitive teams. We will have to play very well in order to have success in this region, and I expect us to get to that level of success. I think in this region we have a chance to be, and I expect us to, be a state playoff contender and contend for a Region Championship.”
(McCard)- How much of a learning curve do you expect for yourself coming from a baseball background as a first time softball coach?
(Hammock)- “I think the learning curve is pretty big, but their are some similarities between the two. In softball obviously the speed of the game is faster, the confines of the field are smaller, but the biggest difference is pitching. A lot of hitting techniques and fielding techniques are the same as in baseball. As any coach would do, I’ve been studying to get better as a coach and be prepared. I will have the same principles as their coach as I have always had as a coach. I expect my guys to compete and play hard in baseball, and I will expect these young ladies to come out here and compete. I will say this, boys need to win to have fun, these young ladies will need to have fun to win. I expect for us to be successful and to have fun doing so.”
Coach Hammock and his Lady Knights will play their first game on August 8 in the Jordan High School 25th Annual Lead-off Invitational in Columbus. The Lady Knights will play two games on Aug. 8 and three games on Aug. 9. Teams already registered for the tournament include Upson-Lee, Jordan, Paceli, Carver-Columbus, Baconton Charter, Johnson County, Taylor County, Crawford County, Brookstone, Hardaway, Marion County, and Northside-Columbus. Some of the Lady Knights non-region opponents in 2014 will include Griffin, Mundy’s Mill, and Lamar County.
Wes McCard can be contacted at (706) 647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.