By Matt Hill
JCHS senior softball pitching standout Sam Mahala has known for a long time where she wanted to play in college and on Thursday she made it official.
Mahala signed a letter of intent to play college softball for Milligan College in front a packed house of family and friends at the JCHS Media Center.
The Lady Longhorn is entering her fourth-straight year as a starting pitcher for JCHS and she couldnt be happier with her decision to attend the West Carter County school.
Whenever I go there I feel so at home and I feel like thats where God wants me to go, Mahala said. It kind of reminds me of here. I feel really comfortable there.
Mahala has worked extremely hard to get to this point, putting a lot of hours into her craft.
She has taken pitching lessons from Milligan Coach Wes Holly and has really improved over the years.
I worked really hard, Mahala said. After school I would practice. Every once in awhile I take a day off and rest, then I would go out at it again. I would keep going harder and harder.
Holly says Mahala is the ideal Milligan student, which is a Christian liberal arts college.
Sam is just a good individual, Holly said. Her work ethic and will to excel is really tremendous. Her speed has really progressed. She has the talent to take her game to the next level. Were excited about the opportunity to get a local kid because we try to get all the local kids we can at Milligan. More importantly, she is a tremendous individual who comes from a good family. She is what we call a good Milligan fit.
Mahala has wanted to go to Milligan for a long time and set her goal in middle school to get a scholarship.
Her father, Jack Mahala, was her first coach on the Johnson County Little Leagues Lady Titans and she continued to progress through middle school and high school.
She has been well-organized and has set goals for her career, Holly said. Shes really goal oriented. She works really hard and were excited to have her at Milligan College.
Mahala has some unfinished business at JCHS before she becomes a Lady Buffalo. Since Mahala and the other three seniors have been at JCHS, they havent won the conference, they havent defeated Unicoi County and they havent made the state tournament.
The Lady Longhorn senior and her teammates plan to change all that this season.
Our main goal is to go to state, Mahala said. Thats our top goal. We want to finish first in the conference. I think we can accomplish it this year. This will be the year for us.
Ive got to keep focused and keep my eyes on the goals that I want and keep focused in the game and know that we are going to win that game.
Of course Mahalas high school coach, Dana Smith, is also proud of her for what she has accomplished and for giving JCHS another collegiate signing.
Shes the first pitcher weve had who has been committed all year to her progress, Smith said. Shes worked all summer and fall and has gone to private lessons. Theres no one who has been more competitive. Shes amazing. Her determination has increased her confidence and she knows it.
Mahala has joined pitchers like April Arnold, Ashley Magdzuik, Laura Peters and Katie Nelson to make their mark at JCHS.
With the exception of Peters and Nelson, who were a dominant one-two combo for JCHS in the mid-2000s, all these ladies were the one who Smith called on to carry the team.
Shes our one, Smith said. Shes the one on the mound for ius.
Holly wants to help Mahala become absolutely dominant in college and he feels she has the tools to rise to the occasion.
Sam is tough on herself mentally and is into what shes doing, Holly said. I think shell transition well.
Mahala is appreciative to Coaches like Coach Holly, Coach Smith and Coach Lisa Mullins for giving her the opportunity and for helping her.
If it wasnt for them I wouldnt be near as good as I am now, she said.
Sam has a few people she would like to thank.
I want to thank God because he has played such a huge part in my life. Without him I wouldnt be in softball. I want to thank my dad (Jack Mahala) for sitting on that bucket all those years. My mom always printed stuff of the Internet for me and did a good job. I want to thank my coaches and Coach Holly and all my teammates because they are always behind me. They always have my back.