AFTER a highly-prolific career at Jackson County during which she helped carry the Panther softball team deep into the postseason, Mason Garland hopes to be the same type of impact player on the next level.
Garland has signed a scholarship with Brenau University in Gainesville. Her time with Jackson County included trips to the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16 of the state tournament.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better high school experience, especially with the coaches and the girls,” the all-state shortstop said at her signing ceremony last Wednesday. “We’re all just one big family, so it was fun to go down that road with them.”
Garland feels all-the-more equipped for what lies ahead after facing top-notch competition in high school. She pointed out that Jackson County coach Chessie Laird frequently scheduled some of the toughest teams around.
“She was more for how great of competition we played to get us better and more prepared for the next level,” Garland said.
A lot of colleges sought Garland during the recruiting process, but she eventually narrowed her choices to the University of Georgia, Brenau and Emory. Garland initially committed to UGA, but changed her mind in favor of Brenau.
Garland said she loved the Brenau campus and said the school felt like home.
“It wasn’t too far away, it wasn’t too close, it was just right,” Garland said. “And I love the people there. It was just a good fit.”
Garland is headed to Brenau after a highly-prolific senior season during which she hit .444 with two homers, 10 doubles, 11 triples, 41 RBIs and a .769 slugging percentage. She set school single-season records for hits and triples, and ranks second in batting average, RBIs and slugging percentage for a single season in Jackson County history. Her 11 triples rank third in the state for all-classifications in a single season.
Garland was honored accordingly as postseason accolades rolled in. She was named first-team All-State for Class AAA and first-team All-Region for 8-AAA while at the same time appearing on the first team of multiple media outlets’ all-area teams.
The Panthers selected Garland as the team’s Most Valuable Player.
Garland was also chosen by the Georgia Dugout Club to participate in the all-star senior showcase in LaGrange, where she won the Infielders Award for all classifications.
“Anytime you talk to anyone in our region, we have a few girls that people know who they are and Mason’s definitely one of those kids,” Laird said when addressing the crowd at Garland’s signing ceremony.
The coach said the program will certainly miss its star shortstop.
“But we couldn’t be more proud that she’s going to Brenau and going to be helping them out,” Laird said. “I don’t think there’s a better fit for her academically and athletically.”
At Breanu, Garland will play for Devon Thomas, who started the program there in 2004. Now in his 11th season, Thomas has taken the Golden Eagles from a 2-40 team in 2004 to perennial top-20 program. Brenau (19-3) is ranked no. 19 currently.
Thomas said he’s been recruiting Garland since she was a sophomore. When Garland de-committed from UGA, Thomas seized the opportunity.
“Of course, we jumped on her right then and got the shortstop we wanted for this 2014 class,” Thomas said. “She’s very good offensively and defensively. She’ll help us out both with the bat and the glove. We’re very lucky to get a player like Mason.”
Brenau will graduate an All-American shortstop-pitcher, so Garland will be a candidate to fill the void at shortstop next season.
“When she (Garland) comes in, she’ll definitely have a great opportunity to start as a freshman,” Thomas said.
Thomas noted that former Jackson County standout Victoria Fontana starts at centerfielder for the Golden Tigers and hits lead-off.
“We look for the same thing out of Mason,” Thomas said.
Garland said she’s looking forward to getting to Brenau and filling whatever role the team needs.
“I think I’ll be a good leader there,” Garland said. “I know most of the girls there now, and they can’t wait to play with me so it’s exciting.”