(Carrollton, Ga) – Ladies fast-pitch softball has exploded in popularity as the athletes have transformed the game into a fast-paced competition of speed, precision and intensity. Today’s players provide both glamour and toughness that make it a perfect spectator sport. ESPN has channeled that popularity into a ratings winner with their coverage of the College World Series each year as the players and teams become household names.
The State of Georgia has been well represented, The Georgia Lady Bulldogs have been to the national tournament 18 consecutive years, Georgia Tech has been 12 times, Kennesaw State qualified for the tournament two years ago after back-to-back championships in previous years at the D-2 level. Georgia State and Georgia Southern have also qualified.
But it’s a little know that that the first team from Georgia to ever play in the Women’s College World Series was the West Georgia Lady Braves back in 1974. The sport was in it’s fledgling stages then and the governing body was Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) which was formed in 1971. West Georgia physical education professor Dorothy McNabb was an officer in the AIAW and suggested that West Georgia send a team to the national tournament.
West Georgia had fielded a softball team previously under the leadership of Coach Betty McVaigh, but it was disbanded in 1970 for “lack of cooperation.” `There were no conference championships, regionals or super-regionals back then, each state could send a representative. Since no other team from Georgia was interested, all the Lady Braves needed was approval from school administration and funding. In February of 1974, West Georgia President Ward Pafford gave his approval and the process was put in motion.
Coach McVaigh began to put a team together through tryouts, there were not scholarships or experienced players. She put together two softball clinics, one with the Lorilye Ladies, a fastpitch team from Atlanta and another with the Hubbard Slacks, a nationally renowned softball team from Bremen.
They would win two of five practice games, including a 7-0 win against the Murphy Chandler team from Atlanta. Coach McVaigh said of the preseason process, “We made some mistakes, but I think we learned from our mistakes. Several players have really come around both with the bat and defensively.” Ultimately, she took a roster of 16 to the national tournament in Omaha, Nebraska on May 16, 1974.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t that good. Their first opponent was Arizona and the Lady Braves got off to a rocky start. They gave up three unearned runs in the first inning on the way to a 16-0 loss that put them in the loser’s bracket.
Up next was Michigan State, and Coach McVaigh’s squad seemed to settle in. They pulled off the first double play of the tournament on a double-steal attempt by the Lady Spartans. The Lady Braves scored their first wins of the series, after a triple by Debbie McGury from Chamblee, Georgia who was on the Lady Braves basketball team and was driven in by Annie Wilkes. They would also score on a Laurie Paine RBI as well. It was not enough, as Michigan State won 6-2 and sent the Lady Braves back to Carrollton. Sunny Myrell, a member of the West Georgia volleyball team, was the pitcher in the second game.
When it was all over, Coach McVaigh said, “After the first game with Arizona, we were getting embarrassed, but we shrugged it off and came back for Michigan State and made a game of it. Everyone played real well and we learned a lot. In the last game, we looked like a team.” Southwest Missouri State went ahead to win the championship in a 14-7 win over Northern Colorado.
A little known and obscure story about a softball crazed state. West Georgia, now known as the Lady Wolves, play Division-2 softball and are under the leadership of Head Coach Al Thomas.