West Orange softball ace Lauren Mathis looks forward to encore performance in 2017 -- Observer Preps
A year after helping to lead the West Orange softball team to a championship, ace pitcher and University of Georgia signee Lauren Mathis has her eye on leading the Warriors back to state.
| 5:47 p.m. January 5, 2017
WINTER GARDEN Lauren Mathis isn’t afraid to admit how many times she has watched the video of the final out of the 2016 FHSAA Class 9A Softball State Championship Game.
After all, Mathis — the ace pitcher for the West Orange High softball team who was on the mound that night against Tampa’s Alonso High — says her recollection of throwing the game’s final pitch, along with the celebration that ensued, is a little hazy.
“I’ve watched that clip at least a thousand times — I still watch it to this day,” Mathis says. “It’s my pinned tweet on Twitter.”
It was a moment that will last a lifetime, but Mathis — who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play her college softball for Georgia — isn’t done with her career as a Warrior just yet.
The Warriors’ dream season, which included Mathis being recognized as Florida’s Miss Softball, was just her junior year.
That means that, after helping the program win its second state title, she and her teammates can now set their gaze on a goal that would be a first for the school: a repeat championship.
“To win it back-to-back would be absolutely phenomenal,” Mathis said.
Growing in the program
The 2017 spring season will be Mathis’ fourth on the Warriors’ varsity team, an impressive — if not unsurprising — feat.
The standout pitcher came into the program with a reputation after having been part of the Windermere Little League softball team that made the 2012 Little League Softball World Series, in addition to a strong record on the national travel ball circuits.
Her appearances on the mound were limited as a freshman and, though they increased significantly as a sophomore, they tended to come in relief of Kelsey Morrison, currently a pitcher for the University of Tennessee.
Morrison was a stellar pitcher for the Warriors during her own career, and Mathis humerously recalls the many times her and then-bullpen catcher Sam Moore — now playing at Auburn — would get up to warm-up to relieve Morrison, only for Morrison to pitch her way out of a jam and regain her dominance.
Mathis’ sophomore season was highlighted by a relief appearance in a televised win against Apopka during the regular season and an extra-inning pitchers’ duel in the regional championship.
Those moments were among the reasons head coach Todd LaNeave felt confident with Mathis being the staff’s ace once Morrison graduated in the spring of 2015.
“I don’t think it phased her at all,” LaNeave said. “I think she knew that once Kelsey was gone, it was going to be hers.”
If anything, Mathis’ memorable junior season for West Orange was defined by how low-maintenance she was for LaNeave — thanks to her focus and a strong relationship with her catcher, Maggie Wheless.
“(Mathis is) one of those that you give her the ball, and there wasn’t a whole lot that you had to talk to her about,” LaNeave recalled. “When she comes off the field into the dugout, I don’t talk to her. I talk to Maggie.”
This season, Mathis will again be looked to for the bulk of the starts for the Warriors, though junior Landry Newgent got some valuable innings of experience as a sophomore and will also be available to LaNeave.
Whatever comes of her final year at West Orange, Mathis is also excited to be a Bulldog.
Mathis, who says she has thrived in large part because of the support she gets from her parents, says her family has a long history with the University of Georgia — a factor when she de-committed from the University of Florida and instead opted for the Bulldogs.
When she does begin her college career, she’ll be competing in the SEC against a number of former teammates — including Morrison and Moore.
“That’s going to be so fun,” Mathis said when considering the on-field reunions that will occur. “I don’t know — I’ve got to beat them. I can’t lose to them.”
For LaNeave, especially, the possibility that Mathis and Morrison could one day face off as opposing pitchers when the Bulldogs and Volunteers take the field is reason to get the DVR fired up.
“I’ll be absolutely tuning in and if I can’t I’ll be recording it,” LaNeave said. “That’ll be really cool to see. It’ll be neat to watch the two of them battle it out.”