The Lady Knights had a winning record playing a junior varsity schedule in their initial 2009 season. Then, in 2010, they showed they were out to compete after finishing with a 9-3 mark in Region 7AA.
Success continued this fall, when River Ridge went 12-0 in its subregion and clinched its first state playoff berth by defeating Dade County in three games for the region championship.
The Lady Knights went on to sweep their first-round state playoff series against North Oconee before losing their second-round series with Blessed Trinity in three games, falling one victory shy of a trip to the state finals in Columbus.
While River Ridge didn’t get to compete for a state championship, it did finish the season at 21-12 and won a region championship in its first full varsity season. For quickly creating a winning program, River Ridge coach Scott Bradley is the 2011 Cherokee Tribune Softball Coach of the Year.
“It’s just an honor for me,” Bradley said. “Cherokee softball has been so prominent for years now, and the biggest reasons for that are the kids that come through and the coaches around in Cherokee County are very well-known and respected and they do their jobs well.
“I don’t know how deserving I am, because we lost four out of five to our county, but I’m extremely honored. It’s a reward for our kids and our coaching staff, because, without them, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Bradley credited his team’s early success to development and to being able to work with his players — a roster comprised primarily of freshman and sophomores — at an early age.
“I think getting an opportunity to be with the kids on a daily basis helped,” Bradley said. “Most of the time, head coaches don’t get to work with the youngest players because their focus is on the seniors and the juniors.
“With these kids, I have been working with some of them since they were in the eighth grade. I’ve had that opportunity that is a little different than a lot of programs, which I think has helped us.”
What’s also helped Bradley is his attitude and adjustment to coaching girls as opposed to boys.
“I’m still trying to learn them, and they’re still trying to learn me,” he said. “I coach baseball, and it’s definitely a change going from working with guys to working with girls. I’ve tried to do the best I could as far as relating and working with them. There’s definitely a difference, so we’ve had some heart-to-hearts and some tough moments.
“But, when you get an opportunity to work with kids like we’ve had that come out and work hard every day, that’s something special for me.”
Bradley also said he was excited about the initiative and determination he’s seen from his players.
“At the beginning of the year, we’d practice hitting, and when it didn’t go right, I’d make them keep going,” he said. “It’s awesome to see, as the year goes on, how much the kids want to continue to get better. I’d ask them to do a drill, and it won’t be right, but I’ll want them to move on to something else.
“Now, a player would suggest that we do the drill again to try and make it perfect. That’s what’s important to me. To see them make that adjustment and strive to be better is something special for me.”
Bradley acknowledged that he hopes his team isn’t done trying to be the best it can be.
“Since the very first day, when we had eighth- and ninth-graders, I told them that the expectations and standards are going to be high,” he said. “This year, we won the region championship. Next year, the expectations are to make it even further.
“To win a region championship, as everybody knows, is not something that comes lightly. It’s not something you’re going to win every year. We talk about not being satisfied. The day we win a state championship is maybe the day we can say we’re satisfied, but until that day comes, we’re going to continue working as hard as we can go.”