Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 7, 2007
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó Students did a double-take every time West Rowan senior Gina Loflin walked the halls in her bright red Walters State T-shirt.
They knew about Barbara Walters. Some had studied Sir Walter Raleigh in history class or read something written by Sir Walter Scott.
But Walters State?
What? Where? Why?
Loflin, West’s all-star softball catcher, patiently explained why Walters State in Morristown, Tenn., will be her next stop. She’s answered questions about Walters State so frequently she could get a job as a campus tour guide this fall.
Loflin’s told people Walters State Community College is a two-year school in the Great Smoky Mountains, right next door to Jefferson City’s Carson-Newman College. Morristown is 40 miles from Knoxville and the same size as Salisbury, give or take a softball team.
Walters State is a baseball power in Region VII and was 2006 national champion. South Rowan’s Sam Moore went there. So did former East Rowan and South Legion coach Allen Wilson.
Even if Loflin, NPC Player of the Year and twice Rowan County Co-Player of the Year, is as good as coaches think she’ll be, she’s unlikely to become Morristown’s most famous citizen. Davy Crockett, the coonskin cap guy, grew up there. So did NFL running back James “Little Man” Stewart.
Larry Sauceman, who has coached Walters State’s Lady Senators for a decade, will be satisfied if Loflin takes care of his catching needs the next two years. He put her scholarship papers in the mail on Thursday.
“What do I like about her?” Sauceman said with a chuckle into his cell phone. “I’d say we like everything we’ve seen from Gina ó her bat, her arm, the way she moves around behind the plate. We’re very excited to sign her.”
Loflin went on a combination visit/tryout to Walters State last fall. Sauceman worked out Loflin alongside catcher Elisha Collins, one of Walters State’s standouts. Collins was Player of the Year for all Tennessee junior colleges as a sophomore and is now headed to Carson-Newman.
“We’re losing a girl that’s an All-American, and Gina still looked good next to her,” Sauceman said. “Then we came down and watched Gina during the summer and she hit a home run. Gina can play. We’ve always been winners, but she’s the kind of player who can help us get to the national tournament.”
Sauceman recruits North Carolina quite a bit, signing mountain girls from Enka and players from marquee Piedmont programs such as Hopewell and Central Cabarrus. Sauceman said Central’s Brittney Furr will be part of Loflin’s recruiting class.
“Playing more ball is what I really want to do,” Loflin said. “When I’m on the field, all the troubles go away. I love making people happy, and every time I get a good hit or make a good play, my family’s happy and my teammates are happy.”
Loflin played her freshman year at East Rowan as an all-county third baseman. At West, she’s been behind the plate on three NPC championship teams and a 3A state runner-up.
“Gina is by far the most talented catcher I’ve seen,” West coach Elizabeth Clarke said. “But she could be a good player anywhere. Third base, shortstop, anywhere.”
Loflin hit .457 with three homers as a senior. She batted mostly leadoff after spending previous years in the middle of the lineup.
“It made me feel so good they would bat me leadoff,” Loflin said. “I didn’t change anything. That first nice one they threw me, I still tried to give it a ride.”
Clarke explained Loflin was moved because there was a perception she was off her game a little.
“We had the feeling the first half of the season she was struggling, but when we looked at the book, she was still over .400 with a bunch of doubles,” Clarke said. “Gina is going to hit fine anywhere in the lineup, and she’s going to hit her best against the best teams.
“The girls respected her. They knew the bigger the game, the bigger the chance she was going to come through. We always believed, whatever what was wrong, Gina could fix it.”
Loflin’s defense is even better than her offense.
Clarke gives her a lot of credit for the success West pitcher Adele Burnside experienced in 2005-06 and the success freshman hurler Sabrina Stephens enjoyed this year. Loflin could figure out with a glance at a stance whether a batter needed to be pitched inside or outside.
Loflin’s arm was a lethal weapon. She picked 13 runners off bases as a senior. Few attempted steals against West, but she threw out six girls who had larceny in mind.
She also was a leader, in sickness or in health.
“We played at Northwest (Cabarrus), and Gina was so white and pale, I wasn’t going to play her,” Clarke said. “But she kept saying, ‘I’m playing, I’m playing.’ She started and did her best.
“She just never changes. Always smiling, always positive.”
Loflin became a catcher at a young age. She remembers travel-ball coach Mike Foster, the father of West center fielder, Erin, putting a mask and chest protector on her for the first time.
“It kept going good,” Loflin said. “Then I was playing in 18-under when I was 12. I was playing for my daddy (Eddie Loflin), and the pitchers were saying they loved having me catching because I wouldn’t let anything get past me. That made me feel good.”
The middle child of three sisters, Loflin had a million backyard practices with her father. A closeness developed that made her reluctant to sever the family ties.
There was recruiting interest from schools as big and far away as Auburn and Purdue, but Loflin was unsure if she wanted to pursue college. She stayed unsure until Walters State did and said all the right things.
“It almost killed me when Gina wasn’t sure she was going to play college ball,” Clarke said. “She’s a big family person and now she can start out at a small school where she’s comfortable. I think it’s best for her.”
Loflin’s not worried about anything past this fall. She’s content knowing she’s found a home in the mountains for the next two seasons. She smiles a lot and puts on that red Walters State shirt as soon as it emerges from the dryer.
“I knew I’d be homesick at college, knew I’d miss my family,” she said. “But my parents have told me they’re coming to every game. Now I feel better about everything.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or email@example.com.