SOFTBALL: Shelby Cole looking to catch fire with the Flames

Ringgold head softball coach Daniel Hackett, along with Shawn Cole, were among those at Ringgold on Thursday to watch senior Shelby Cole sign on to play softball for Lee University. Also present for the ceremony was Jake Bradford, Heath Caylor and Ringgold coaches Danny Wiltz and Adam Weldon.

A banner year for the Ringgold High School softball team got even better on Thursday when outfielder Shelby Cole signed her papers to continue her career at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.

"I really just love the atmosphere and the coaches and really just everything about it up there," she said. "I love this day. I love getting to see everybody here and seeing everyone who supports me."

Cole had a big senior season for the Lady Tigers, who won 31 games, were ranked No. 1 in Class 3A and went on to win the program's first region title since 2013 and the school's first fastpitch state title in nearly 15 years.

In addition to some outstanding defense in centerfield, Cole batted .354 with six doubles and a team-high nine homeruns. Her 35 RBIs and 34 runs scored were both the second-most on the team and she added nine stolen bases with a slugging percentage of .697.

Cole upped her power numbers in the playoffs as she blasted four homers in the state tournament, including two in a Game 1 win over Morgan County that saw her go 3-for-3 with seven RBIs.

She was named to the All-Region (6-AAA) first team this past season and is a strong candidate for All-State consideration later this year.

Ringgold head coach Daniel Hackett said Cole has been a leader for the Lady Tigers and that he expects that to continue at Lee.

"The girls are going to watch her and want to be like her, not just defensively, but offensively and in the classroom too, because she's just a special person," he said. "We've seen that down here for the last four years. Today is a happy moment and kind of a sad moment too. It's sad that she's going to be leaving, but we're happy that she's going on to do bigger and better things."

Hackett thinks Cole will be an even better softball player once she gets into the Flames' program.

"She's going to be getting next level coaching and she can focus more on softball," he added. "I expect her batting numbers to go up in college. I don't know where she'll play defensively, but she can play just about anywhere. In summer ball, she's played some middle infield and for us, it was mainly in the outfield, but she's such an athlete that you can pretty much play her anywhere."

"We have a lot of freshmen coming in (at Lee)," said Cole. "There are six of us and most of us are outfielders, but I think there's room for each of us to and grow and to play."

Cole is also a very good basketball player for the Lady Tigers and Ringgold head basketball coach Margaret Stockburger had nothing but praise for the senior.

"She's top notch," Stockburger said. "She's a good student, a good athlete and just an all-around great person. I don't think she's hit her absolute total (athletic) maturity yet as far as softball is concerned. I think she'll climb to an even higher level (at Lee) than what she was here at Ringgold."

Cole said that she plans to one day become a physical therapist.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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