By TAYLOR DENMAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Dawn Stewart and Taylor Lee arrived at College of Coastal Georgia at the same time, and now the two will leave at the same time.
In 2013, Lee was previously committed to another college program, but after her favorite coach left the program, she convinced Stewart, her travel ball teammate at the time, to attend Coastal where Mike Minick, one of her former coaches, was trying to build a young softball program.
In their first season, the Mariners went 13-30 and in the following year they were 9-32.
The program has made strides since. The Mariners finished two games below a .500 winning percentage last year, and they are sitting at 24-14 this season with a handful of top-25 wins under their belts. Coastal received votes in the NAIA softball coaches poll for the first time two weeks ago, and have a decent opportunity to crack the top-25 by the end of the season.
When Lee and Stewart are recognized on senior night before Saturday's doubleheader against Bethel, it will be as the first Mariner softball players to spend all four years of eligibility at Coastal.
"We were kind of the joke of the school when we started as freshmen," Stewart said. "From freshman to senior year it's made a complete 180."
Lee and Stewart's graduations are the start of something new for the Coastal softball program. Minick dubbed the 2016-17 season the best ever for Coastal softball, and hopes the trend of players joining for the long haul continues to develop the program.
"We're kind of setting the tone," Lee said.
Lee, a self-described hometown girl from nearby Darien, is committed to the area. Formerly Taylor Horne, she married her high school sweetheart last month, and the McIntosh County Academy graduate said Coastal has been a good fit for her.
Stewart said as the size of the school has increased over the past few years, she's noticed more committed players have joined the softball team.
"The girls that come in have more talent and heart than what was here before," Stewart said. "And that translates into us playing as a team more."
The Mariners are heading into the home stretch of their schedule. There are 12 more Southern State Athletics Conference games on the Mariners' schedule, including two games against No. 3-ranked Brenau. After receiving three top-25 votes in the latest coaches' poll, there is a decent chance the Mariners can crack the rankings for the first time in school history with a strong finish to the season, despite losses to ranked William Carey University, Mobile and University of South Carolina Beaufort.
"Luckily (the losses) didn't drop us out," Minick said. "We still had enough good wins to at least get a couple votes. Now we're at home six out of the next eight games, so we think we can get a winning streak going again."
Friday's doubleheader against Blue Mountain College, which starts at 1 p.m., will be the first of six consecutive home games for the Mariners, through April 12.
Taylor Lee, left, and Dawn Stewart.