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ECI softballers earn all-state accolades

For the fourth year, Emanuel County Institute has produced a Player of the Year.

The Georgia Coaches Association (GACA) announced its 2021 all-state selections on December 9. When the news broke, Bulldog Charla Clifton was atop the list for Class A Public.

As Player of the Year, she represents the individual who, for her respective classification, received the most GACA votes for the honor based on her play throughout the season. She is also the first softball player from ECI to receive the distinction of Player of the Year at the state level.

(Three others preceded her with region Player of the Year awards: Tazha Williams in 2014, Hannah Henry in 2015, and Allana Hooks in 2017.)

ECI had two more players receive statewide honors as well. Catcher Shayla Stephenson and short stop Kelsey Harper were named first team all-state.

As a selectee, Stephenson makes the first catcher for the Lady Bulldog softball program to be named to the all-state team.

With the Player of the Year award, Clifton concluded a highly decorated season. She was also named to the all-state team as a pitcher and has been tapped as a GACA all-star. She is one of only two pitchers who will represent the south in the GACA All-Star Game, whose rosters are selected across all GHSA classifications. This contest will be played June 6-7, 2022 at the University of West Georgia with Appling County High’s Lindsay Tillman leading the way as the head coach of Clifton’s team.

About the honors for these three Lady Bulldogs, ECI head coach Frank Wimberly said, “Charla Clifton was widely considered the best all-around player in the state. She is one of the most dominant pitchers, arguably the best hitting pitcher in the state, and she also has a tremendous versatility in the field when not pitching.

“Kelsey Harper’s defense cannot be adequately described. She is a must-see talent. No short stop in single A has the range of Harper, but just saying she has great range doesn’t do her justice. She is electrifying in the field with the plays she makes.

“Shayla Stephenson is one of the most pure receiving catchers I’ve seen in Class A. She puts on a performance every game, but it is much different than her teammates. It’s not as obvious because her glovework around the plate is so subtle and smooth. I call all the pitches and know where they are going and when mistakes are made by the pitcher, but there aren’t many folks at a game that know when our pitchers make mistakes because of how good Shayla is. She can throw runners out from her knees and blocks up pitches as good as anyone. Every big game this season, the opposing coaches always complimented our catcher as quickly as they would anyone else.”

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