On May 7, Judson College softball coach Tom Hannah got a text from a Wiregrass friend with a video of Wicksburg softball player Shelby Holland pitching and playing outfield.
He immediately was impressed with Holland’s athleticism and versatility.
Shortly after, the Panther senior visited the Judson campus in the west Alabama city of Marion and left impressed with what she saw.
On Tuesday afternoon, those favorable impressions led to Holland signing to play softball at the private four-year Baptist women’s college.
“It feels good that my hard work paid off and that I get to further my education, get to continue to play softball and create new friendships,” Holland said after signing.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play softball in college, but it feels good to go in and start a new chapter.”
Holland becomes the third Wiregrass softball player to sign with Judson in the last three years, including recent Emmanuel Christian graduate Reagan Thomas last August. Thomas, ironically, played at Wicksburg in 2018 before transferring and the two played together on the Dothan Warrior travel ball team.
“I went to school with her before she moved and I know her, so it will be somebody I know there,” Holland said. “It will make me feel more comfortable.”
Holland said she texted Thomas for info about Judson and Thomas’ dad, Troy, also helped send game videos to Hannah and the Eagle program.
While the information from Thomas was valuable, Holland said the visit to Judson made the most impact in her decision to attend the school and play for the Eagles.
“It seemed like a really good place, good people and a good community,” Holland said.
“During orientation, the people were super friendly. I thought it was a good place to live.”
Hannah, Judson’s coach, said Tray Lacey, a local athletic trainer, first contacted him about Holland with the May 7 text and video.
“He sent me a message, ‘Hey, here’s video, look at this girl. I think she could help you.’ I watched it and said, ‘She could definitely help us,’” said Hannah, who said he also got “complimentary” reviews of the Wickburg player from the Thomas family.
It didn’t take long for Hannah to see the ability and versatility from Holland, who played right field and center field at Wicksburg in addition to pitching.
“She is athletic and she can move and run,” Hannah said. “A lot of times we get a lot of infielders and not as many outfielders or girls that don’t like to play the outfield or that can’t run down balls. We play on a big field so seeing her athleticism was No. 1 and of course, seeing she can pitch and throw strikes was big too.
“That (good pitching) is a premium nowadays. Everybody and their sister say they can pitch, but then you watch them, they just throw. She is a pitcher. She is not a thrower, but a pitcher. To have both of those — to be able to play in the outfield and pitch plus be able to use her bat — helps us. She can do all of it. She is an athlete.”
Hannah said the Eagles will utilize Holland a lot both as a pitcher and outfielder.
“We are looking forward to using her at both positions,” Hannah said. “Everything is a doubleheader in college, so we can use in pitching some and use her in outfield some and get the best out of her.”
Holland was having a break-out year at Wicksburg this spring before the season was halted in mid-March by the coronavirus. In just 18 games, she was hitting .433 with three doubles and six runs batted at the plate and had a 3-1 record with 18 strikeouts over 25 innings as a pitcher.
She had played mostly in the outfield as a junior, but was utilized as a pitcher more as a senior after the Panthers graduated several pitchers from a state runner-up team.
“She was a great teammate with a great work ethic,” Wicksburg head coach Nathan Rainey said. “She was always the one encouraging the other ones when they needed it.
“Her hitting really came along this year. We had to rely on her the last couple of years in the outfield and this year she had to pitch because we had some graduated and was doing well. Overall, she is a great kid and we will miss her next year in her leadership and her ability.”
Coach Mike Palmer of the Dothan Warrior travel play team that Holland played for during the last five years lauded the player’s work ethic.
“Nobody has worked as hard as she has,” Palmer said. “She is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached.”
Holland said she was thankful to have the opportunity to play in college.
“I just want to thank all my teammates and to God for giving me this opportunity to further my education and also play softball at another level,” Holland said. “I would also like to thank my coaches of course for putting in time into it for me and my teammates and also (want to thank) my family for supporting me in everything.”