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Dynastic career

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Former Lady Indian Brittany Gilliam wraps up incredible run of championship softball

By Sean Arnold

Brittany Gilliam isn’t afraid of calling her shots.

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Her confident, well-earned swagger was the attitudinal underpinning of the Chiefland softball team’s historic run to its first Class 1A state championship in 2014, which kicked off three straight titles and four finals appearances.

But she wasn’t expecting the level of success she and her North Georgia Nighthawks would enjoy in her senior year of college.

The NCAA powerhouse went 62-4 before eventually falling in the Division II World Series.

It didn’t look that promising in the fall, when the Nighthawks were splitting a series with a junior college team.

“We still had some things to figure out,” said Gilliam, who is completing her degree in business marketing this summer before returning to Chiefland. “We had a young team, so we really didn’t know how the spring was going to play out.”

UNG bursted out of the gate in the spring, however, going 6-0 at a stacked tournament in Gulf Shores, Alabama, outscoring opponents by a combined 42-7. The next thing Gilliam knew, her club was sitting at 21-0 on the season. It went on to capture its fifth-straight Peach Belt Conference.

“We were just phenomenal,” Gilliam said. “We’d maybe get hit in the mouth early in the game, but we never had a thought in our mind that we’d lose a game.”

In an uncanny twist, Gilliam was one of only two seniors on the club, just like 2014 at Chiefland, when her and her best friend Kelsi Alexander were the only pair of seniors on a freshman-laden club. Moreover, she recorded the final out in the Super Regional to send the team to the World Series, just like she did against Dixie County in 2014 to advance her club to the state final four.

The 2018 season wasn’t just a team success for Gilliam, it was a personal validation for all the work she put in the prior season, when the playing time wasn’t so abundant.

“I was working just as hard as the starters, to help them compete, help our team win,” she said.

The first baseman finished her senior year with an impressive .292/.446/.526 slash line to go along with 50 RBI, seven home runs and 13 doubles. She collected Peach Belt Player of the Week honors in April behind three doubles, a home run and seven RBI.

The power came after high school for Gilliam, who only hit a pair of home runs her high school career. She partly credits the 5:30 a.m. workouts at UNG.

“It shows how far you can progress as a hitter,” she said.

Still, she hit .474 her senior year of high school and was named the Dairy Farmers’ Class 1A Player of Year.

The academic accolades have also continued to roll in – Conference All-Academic Team, the Dean’s List, Division II Academic Achievement Award, Presidential Honor Rolls, etc. A sports junky who was equally passionate about volleyball in high school, Gilliam wants to get a Masters Degree in the area of athletic leadership or sports management and work in a university or college athletic department in some capacity. You might see her helping out with the CMHS volleyball team later this upcoming season.

That final spring of high school was a heady one for Gilliam. She was coming off a final four appearance in basketball, which only made her hungrier to repeat the feat in softball. She randomly informed her head coach, Wayne Weatherford, on a bus ride that Chiefland was going to win state, and demanded the biggest championship ring he could find.

Weatherford shrugged it off in the moment, but he never forgot that moment of portent.

“I had a taste of the state trip, and I was like, ‘Man, I want to do that again,’” Gilliam said.

At the time of her prediction, Chiefland had yet to prove it could overcome district rival Dixie County. They suffered a 12-1 road loss to the Bears in the regular season and fell 6-0 in the district championship game, only to come back to steal a 3-2 win in Cross City in the regionals.

“Dixie County wasn’t just beating us, they were demolishing us,” Gilliam recalled. “The parents kept saying, ‘They can’t beat you a fourth time.’

“Kelsi and I had missed our grad bash to play. I think winning that game was more crucial than winning the state tournament.”

Gilliam went to State College of Florida in Manatee-Sarasota out of high school, where she was later followed by fellow Lady Indians Lauren Stalvey, Lauren Parker and Sydney Parks. She switched from center field to first base after experience severe shoulder soreness. She made just one error her senior year, in the last game of the season.

The winning ways followed the dynasty-hopping Gilliam. The Manatees were conference champions her freshman year.

But UNG took some getting used to, being further from home, having to leaving friends behind and being surrounded by elite talent. Gilliam says she was the only juco transfer on her team.

Facing the worst of it gave her a confident feeling heading into her senior year.

“I was really thinking, ‘You have nothing left to lose, you didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, so what’s the worst (that could happen)? You sit again and your school gets paid for?’ It really helped, I mean I played my butt off, and this team, man, I can’t even put it into words, the year that we had.”

The Nighthawks had plenty of bats, and were led in the circle by National Player of the Year Kylee Smith. Smith and fellow starter Amber Johns boasted ERAs of 0.59 and 0.76, respectively.

Gilliam has an easy-going spirit that goes down well with teammates. North Georgia isn’t so easy.

“It’s a military college, so they definitely hold everything to a higher standard up here,” she said. “They do not cut anybody any slack, in or out of the classroom.”

Chiefland has gained a reputation in far away places for all of its softball success, and Gilliam makes sure to bring a little bit of her hometown to wherever she goes.

“Everybody I come in contact with knows about Chiefland because that’s just all I talk about, my smalltown – I love it,” she said. “All of us have put Chiefland on the map, that’s for sure.”