By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
PIEDMONT – Savannah Smith has been coming to Piedmont High School softball practices since she was 10 years old. She’s picked up a lot in that time, from learning to play the infield to pitching for her mother, former Jacksonville State softball standout Rachel Smith.
“She is like having another coach on the field. She’s very knowledgeable of the game,” Rachel Smith said. “I can leave the pitch calling up to her. She knows exactly what she wants to do with every batter. She’s really spoiled me rotten as a coach. It’s just been a very fun ride having her out there with me.”
Although that “fun ride” will soon be coming to an end following this upcoming season for the Smiths at Piedmont, it doesn’t mean Savannah’s playing career is over. She will get to move on and experience the same college culture her mother did.
Savannah officially signed with the Gamecocks on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s definitely something special getting to play at the same school as my mom did. Not many people can say that,” Savannah said. “My mom has really been my biggest supporter. She’s the one who’s taken me all over the country to play in tournaments, getting lessons. She’s always been there, especially during my injury last year, always keeping me in a good mindset. I’m just so appreciative of her. She’ll never know how much I love her.”
Rachel said her daughter is “a specialist at her craft.”
“She’s so much more of a better athlete than I was. She’s a lot smarter of a player than I ever thought about being,” Rachel said. “For her to be able to play there and experience the same things – I certainly don’t want to get to comparing me and her. The game has advanced so much that it’s not even comparable.”
Something else that’s special for mother and daughter is they can soon say they both played for the same coach in college: JSU head coach Jana McGinnis.
“Coach McGinnis is a legendary coach. She’s one of the best coaches to ever go through Jacksonville State University,” Savannah said. “What stood out most to me about her and her program is her program is a family. They’re not a team, they’re a family. They’re really close-knit. She treats all her players like they’re her own. I’ve always wanted to play for a school like that. I’m really glad that I’m going to get the opportunity to.”
So, too, is Rachel Smith.
“I know what Jana McGinnis is all about, and I’m so excited Savannah is getting to play for the caliber of coach Jana is,” Rachel said. “If I could’ve handpicked in the nation that (college program) I wanted my daughter to go, it would be for Jana McGinnis and that program. It was really a no-brainer for us. I just have so many special memories there. I’m so excited that Savannah is going to get to experience some of those same things.
“We had some special seasons when I was there. Our team was very much like a family, and I think that’s what makes them special. I think a lot of programs run more like businesses, but that program still gets around like a family. It works well.”
Speaking of working well, Savannah has done that throughout her varsity career with the Lady Bulldogs. Last season she batted .458 with 18 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 20 walks, 20-of-20 stolen bases, 48 runs and 40 RBIs.
Splitting time with Emma Grace Todd in the circle, Savannah went 14-5 with a pair of saves, 124 strikeouts and 1.43 ERA, helping the Lady Bulldogs earn 39 wins and reach their third straight Class 3A state tournament appearance.
“I think she’s observed a lot from (former Piedmont football coach) Steve (Smith) and I both being in the coaching profession. I think she has observed what it takes to play at an elite level,” Rachel said. “I think she’s taken those lessons and just kind of applied them to honing her skill set.
“It’s never been on my urging that she goes and does what she does to get better. She does it on her own. She knows what she has to do to get better. She goes and puts in the time to do it. That’s the way I would prefer it. You want your players to be intrinsically motivated to accomplish the goals they want to accomplish. That’s been a blessing.”
Savannah said playing at Piedmont has been a blessing for her.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Savannah said. “Piedmont and the whole community mean so much to me. I bleed blue and gold. I’ve made a lot of good friends here who are like family, but I’ve found the place that is going to be the next step. They’re like a family, JSU is. I hope it’s going to be pretty much the same (as Piedmont).”
Savannah is expected to play somewhere on the infield for the Gamecocks.
“Whatever (Coach McGinnis) needs me to do, I’ll play infield, outfield, I’ll play anywhere for her,” Savannah said.