Just when you thought the news couldn’t get any better for a Raider softball team off to a school-best 20-1 start, it did. According to academic rankings released by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, Madison County is tied for first for the best GPA among non-weighted high school programs.

The rankings are based on grades from the 2008-2009 school year,

“It was a great year … We’re proud of them,” coach Doug Kesler said. “I know their parents are proud of them. That’s something that they’ll take with them for the rest of their life.”

With a collective 3.812 GPA, Madison County is tied with Hopkins High School, a private school in Minnesota, for the top spot. The softball Raiders finished third last year, but ranked no. 1 among public schools.

Madison County’s smarts in the classroom and winning ways on the field have earned it acclaim around the state. The Raiders will be featured on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Prep Sports Plus” program tonight (Thursday) at 7:30 p.m. The show will re-air Sunday at 11 a.m.

Kesler said he dictates no study hours when the softball team is together, saying this team tends to be a self-motivated team when it comes to the books. Raider varsity players can often be seen studying during the junior varsity games preceding theirs.

“I think it’s more of a credit to the girls and their parents,” Kesler said of the team’s academic achievements.

Kesler also thinks the girls’ competitive nature to remain one of the top academic softball teams keeps the softball Raiders studying hard.

“Our girls are proud of that and they good-naturedly rib each other about studying and keeping their grades up,” Kesler said.

As for the team’s television segment, the team plans to make an event out of it, complete with a pizza party and a viewing of the program at the Madison County High School theater.

“We’re going to make it special for the girls,” Kesler said.

Madison Co. extends winning streak, starts region tourney Tues.

All the good academic news comes amid preparation for the region tournament.

The team ran its school-best winning streak to 14 games with a 5-2 victory over Winder-Barrow on Senior Night, rallying for five runs in the bottom of the sixth. “It was a good come-from-behind win,” Kesler said. “Winder-Barrow is much-improved from last year.”

Katie Bolin went 2-for-3 with a two-run triple in the pivotal sixth inning. Elizabeth Whieldon (1-for-3) and Ariel Bates (1-for-3) also drove home runs in the sixth. Brandi Osborne also had a hit, going 1-for-2.

On the mound, Erin Gibson pitched a complete game, scattering six hits and surrendering two runs, both unearned. She also struck out a season-high 11 batters.

The Raiders (20-1, 8-0) then closed the regular season Wednesday with games against Morgan County and Alcovy at Morgan County High School, but results weren’t available at press time.

Madison County opens region tournament play Tuesday at 4 p.m., receiving a first-round bye. It faces the winner of the Heritage-Winder-Barrow/Salem game.

By virtue of its no. 1 seed, Madison County will have homefield advantage for Tuesday’s game. Madison County will also host all the Wednesday and Thursday region tournament games.

The Raiders must win once to qualify for the state tournament, but the team has eyes on bigger prizes.

“Our sights are on winning the region tournament,” Kesler said. “That’s our goal.”

Earning a high seed out of the region tournament weighs more heavily now than in years’ past.

The GHSA has scrapped the state sectionals – which brought 16 teams together at a neutral site — in favor of best-of-three series at home field sites for the first two rounds.

The top two seeds in each region earn hosting rights for the first-round playoff games.

The quarterfinals are still in Columbus.

RECENT ACTION

MCHS 5, Winder-Barrow 2

WBHS 0001100 — 2

MCHS 000005X — 5

Hitting: Bolin 2-3, 3B, 2RBI; Whieldon 1-3, RBI; Bates 1 hit, 1RBI; Osborne1-2

Pitching: Gibson 7IP, 6H, 2R, 0ER, 11K

MCHS 24, Clarke Central 0

MCHS (14) 7 3 — 24

CCHS 0 0 0 — 0

Hitting: Whieldon 3-4, HR, 2B, 6 RBI; Bates 2-2, Skelton 2-2; Atkinson 2-3

Pitching: Gibson 1IP, 2K; Boggs 1IP, 3K, Smith 11P, 3K

MCHS 12, Cedar Shoals 0

CSHS 0000 — 0

MCHS 0723 — 12

Hitting: Bates 2-2, 2RBI; Skelton 1-1, 2RBI; Osborne, Ellisor, Bolin, LaZear 1 hit

Pitching: Gibson 2IP, 6K, 1BB; Boggs 1IP, 1K, 1BB; Smith 1P, 1K

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