By Chris McCarthy
An acute mild case of homesickness ultimately led to good fortune for both Madison Grant and the Wallace State-Hanceville softball team.
A 2016 Etowah graduate and standout softball player for the Lady Blue Devils, Grant attended Lindsey Wilson College for a semester before deciding that Columbia, Kentucky, was a bit too far from home for her liking.
“I jumped on [signing with Lindsey Wilson] too quickly, and I wasn’t really ready to be so far away from home,” said Grant. “I actually had verbally committed to Wallace before I signed (with Lindsey Wilson), so it worked out really well.”
Being that Wallace-Hanceville previously had offered Grant a scholarship, she contacted head softball coach A.J. Daugherty to see if there might be room for her in his program.
There certainly was.
Grant transferred prior to the spring semester, and despite joining the team just two weeks before the preseason started, she helped the Lady Lions win the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament title this past May. It was the third consecutive ACCC Tournament title for Wallace-Hanceville and 11th in program history. Wallace State won the NJCAA Division I national championship in 2008 and 2013 and finished as the national runner-up in 2009 and 2010.
Grant finished with 43 strikeouts and a 3.63 earned run average on the pitching mound. It was the first time she was a member of a state-title winning team.
“The feeling was just unreal,” she said. “We got to state my senior year in high school and really didn’t deliver, so it felt so good. I was glad that I finally got to experience it.”
After winning the ACCC championship, Grant and her teammates then spent a week in St. George, Utah, competing in the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament.
“That was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to go back next year,” she said.
Daugherty jumped at the chance to sign Grant once she became available during Christmas break, and any concerns on his part that Grant would not mesh with her new teammates quickly disappeared.
“It’s a touchy situation,” said Daugherty. “You work all fall on your team chemistry and all of a sudden you introduce a brand new face, so we were just kind of feeling her out in the spring. But it was like Maddie had been with us all along and she fit right in.
“We couldn’t have been more pleased with what we got out of her on the field and in the classroom. Maddie was a big piece of the puzzle for us this season, and we’re looking forward to her doing big things and toeing a big load for as a sophomore.”
Grant felt a part of the family the moment she arrived on campus. It also helped that she knew several of her teammates through high school travel ball.
“Everybody was very welcoming and took me in right off the bat. That’s what makes this program so good; they’re open to new people all the time. We clicked right away, and I think that’s why we were so successful this season.”
Grant started out as the team’s No. 4 pitcher before steadily working her way up the depth chart to No. 2 behind Brittany Ledbetter.
“The biggest thing I can say about Maddie is her consistency,” said Daugherty. “She wasn’t a strikeout/power pitcher this year, but she kept hitters off-balance and hit her spots. She also has good endurance and is usually good for at least four or five innings a game.
“Maddie also has a bit of a poker face when she’s out in the circle, which I love. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion and doesn’t get too high or too low, which is what you want out there.”
Daugherty also praised Grant’s mental toughness. When Wallace-Hanceville trailed in both of its games at the NJCAA Tournament and with Ledbetter struggling, Daugherty called Grant’s number.
“She responded like a champ,” he said. “She went out there and competed like she didn’t know what the score was or how many runners were on base. Whether we’re up 7-0 or down 7-0, Maddie’s going to have the same mentality and give the same effort.”
Grant said that it boils down to a matter of focus when performing in pressure situations.
“I kind of get into a mode and tell myself that I have to get it done right away,” she said. “I concentrate on what I have to do with each batter and not be distracted by anything.”
Grant noted that one of her biggest adjustments to the college game was learning to play multiple positions and adjusting to a specific role for the benefit of the team. She also pointed to a big jump in the talent level.
“Everybody’s used to being the best player on her high school team, and you’ve really got to adjust to that mentally,” she said.
As a senior at Etowah in 2016, Grant was The Messenger’s All-Area softball team’s co-Player of the Year after finishing with 232 strikeouts and 1.91 ERA. At the plate, she batted .457 with 51 RBI, eight home runs and 25 doubles. The Lady Blue Devils finished 42-15-1, closed out the regular season as the 10th ranked team in Class 5A, won the area and regional tournaments and made it to the state tournament in Montgomery. Grant was a first-team all-state selection as an outfielder.
As a junior, Grant posted a 28-8 record with a 1.44 earned run average and 129 strikeouts. She also batted .350 with 35 hits, 29 RBI, 25 runs and five home runs while helping Etowah go 31-9 and qualify for the North Regional Tournament. She was named to the ASWA All-State second team.
EHS head softball coach Stephen Coggins is not at all surprised at Grant’s su-ccess at the junior college level.
“It worked out real well for both Maddie and [Wallace-Hanceville],” he said. “Maddie’s super-talented and hard working. Wallace is always good in softball, and Maddie fit in real well after coming in so late. The further the season went along, I think the more playing time she got as a pitcher.”
Coggins also noted that academics remain a high priority for Grant, who is majoring in physical therapy.
“Normally when I text her, it’s not about softball right away; I ask her first how her classes are going, because her main concern is her education.”