Mars Hill softball coach Matt Burgess said he remembers having freshman Riley Vaughn in his class as a sixth grader and asking her about weekend tournaments she would compete in with her travel ball team.
“She would tell me ‘we ended up winning and I pitched this shutout,’ and I would have people tell me how good she was, but I didn’t know,” Burgess said. “Going into her seventh grade season, I had plans for her to maybe pitch a JV game. Then here she ended up leading our team as a seventh grader to a final four appearance.
“It was like there was nothing too big for her.”
A couple years later, the 15-year-old has become a powerhouse for the Panthers and led Mars Hill to its first softball state championship.
For her accomplishments, Vaughn repeats as the TimesDaily Class 1A-3A Pitcher of the Year. Vaughn will be honored June 11 at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum along with the other players of the year where boys and girls overall player of the year will be announced.
Vaughn said she knew her team would most likely be back at the state tournament this year, but that it was all about making everything come together.
The Panthers’ only postseason blemish came with a loss in game one of the championship series to force a winner-take-all second game.
“When we ended up losing that first game against Brantley, it really just pumped us up even more because we knew what we had to do,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said when the Panthers made that final out to win the state championship, all she felt was an overwhelming joy.
“I was just so happy,” Vaughn said. “It felt so great to be such a big part of history. Especially for (our seniors) and it being their last year, it just felt great to go out there and win it for them.”
Vaughn said when she is in high-caliber games, she never really feels the pressure.
Burgess said one thing that sets Vaughn apart is how calm she is in those situations.
“She wants to go out there and face the very best,” Burgess said. “She really wants to be in those high-pressure games and thrives in them.”
Burgess said as much as he has seen Vaughn improve physically as a player, he has seen her grow more this year in her knowledge of the game.
“She used to be all about how many strikeouts she could get, but now she is learning it is OK if someone gets a pop fly to the outfield or something as long as we can make the out,” Burgess said.
Burgess said one moment that amazed him was when a Brantley player hit a home run to cut the Panthers' lead to one run.
“That would rattle anyone to have someone hit a home run off of you so deep into the state championship game,” Burgess said. “It didn’t faze her. She just stayed calm and got the remaining two outs.”
Vaughn still has three years of high school remaining, and Burgess said he is excited to see what is next for her.
“She is just so young and talented that there is no telling where the top-out is,” Burgess said. “I am just happy to be here and to be her coach and see what all she will accomplish next.”