Coming into the 2023 high school softball season there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic if you were a Union County softball fan.
Last May, the Tigers (18-6) were one win away from advancing to the Class 1A final four.
Instead, Fort White freshman pitcher Kadence Compton struck out 14 batters, tossed a two-hitter, and drove in three runs in a 4-0 win against Union County in the Class 1A-Region 3 Final.
With so many key players back from that regional final team, expectations were high for a school that had six seniors sign to play college softball this past February.
Catcher Tamia Young and outfielder Angela Tucker both made the small school 2022 Mainstreet Daily News All Area Softball Team last year as juniors.
Both signed with the University of West Georgia this year.
“I chose UWG because it feels like home," said Tucker, who led the team last year with a .493 batting average, 36 hits and 32 runs scored. "As soon as I stepped on campus I had a feeling that this is where I belong. I feel so blessed to be able to play the sport I love for a great coach. Coach (Kristy) Burton is a special kind of coach. She’s so down to earth and just a great person to be around. I can’t wait to see what the next four years hold."
Young finished second on the team with a .433 average. She scored 31 runs, had 29 hits, 24 RBI, eight doubles and a team-leading 21 stolen bases.
“West Georgia has a really great environment, everyone was so welcoming, and the nursing program is very hands on," Young said. "It means a lot to get to finally get to see my dreams come true by playing at the next level while becoming a nurse."
Meanwhile, shortstop Leah Clark (.397, 29 hits, 33 RBI) signed with the College of Central Florida, while seniors Hannah Rivera, Hailey Rivera and Hayley Burke all signed with Florida Gateway College.
As a team, the Tigers batted .332 last season.
However, through 14 games, Union County is batting just .239 and the Tigers are just 3-11 this year.
Last week, in a 6-2 loss at 1A No. 1 Williston, Union County managed just four hits as Williston swept the two-game series.
By comparison, Williston also has six players who have signed to play college ball, but the Red Devils are 17-2 this year.
"We're just not playing to our potential," said frustrated Union County coach James Godwin. "I'll leave it at that."
There appeared to be some hope in their previous game, a wild 17-16 win at home last Tuesday against Class 3A Santa Fe (Alachua).
"I think it's (turnaround) coming," said Godwin, who remains optimistic knowing the potential that his team has. "But we've been playing behind all year."
It happened again this past Friday.
After pounding out 16 hits in the win against the Raiders, the Tigers were held to four hits, fell behind 3-0 in the first inning, and lost to visiting Trenton, 13-3, in five innings.
Tucker, who is batting .292 with 14 hits and 7 runs scored, hit her first home run of the season last week at Williston.
But Clark (.417) and Young (.400) are currently the only two players batting over .300 this season.
Those are contributing factors to why this team has lost eight of its last nine games.
Union County will celebrate Senior Night, which includes the team's seventh senior Maggie Thomas, on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Chiefland.
But then the Tigers host Class 1A No. 2 Branford next Thursday, followed by a trip to Santa Fe on Monday, April 24.
They will close out the regular season at Bell on Tuesday, April 25.
Last Monday, the Tigers were ranked 31st in Class 1A in the FHSAA rankings. Their best hope to make the postseason again will be during the Class 1A-District 6 tournament the first week of May.
They'll have to win the district tournament to clinch a spot.
The season isn't over, but time is running out.