Belhaven coach Kevin Griffin, whose team is ranked No. 5 nationally: “My plan is to be there at game time.” – by Billy Watkins

Photo by Robert Smith

By Billy Watkins

It was meant to be a happy story, one celebrating the University of Belhaven softball team: 34-5, ranked No. 5 nationally in NCAA Division III and riding a 10-game winning streak in the American Southwest Conference tournament, which begins Thursday.

And we’ll get to the happy part.

First, we need to talk about head coach and assistant athletic director Kevin Griffin and what he’s been going through. On Sunday, a day after turning 49, Griffin lost his mother. Brenda Askew Griffin of Byron, Georgia, died at age 74 after a sudden illness.

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The funeral was Wednesday. Belhaven gets a bye and won’t play until Friday. “My plan is to be there at game time,” Griffin said.

These will surely be the toughest matches Griffin has ever coached.

“‘Mom was a big fan of the Atlanta Braves and the Georgia Bulldogs, but she changed her whole schedule to watch my Belhaven softball girls online,'” Griffin said. “With her Georgian connection between two of our players (Carley Ingle and Allie Gordon) that she followed during their high school careers, she loved seeing Belhaven succeed, but especially those two girls that she always asked questions about.”

Kennedy Carruth, one of the nation’s top pitchers, said the players were also hurting.

“We’re all thinking about Coach,” Carruth said. “The players get together and talk before every practice about what we need to focus on. We talked this week about getting that done for Coach Griffin. We know he wants to win a national championship. We just have to work hard and trust God’s process.


Now on to the happy part.

In an interview with Griffin just hours before his mother fell critically ill, I joked with him: who did he rather face the plate – Carruth, who struck out 189 batters in 132 innings, or his son, Konnor , a 16-year-old former freshman pitcher/outfielder at Jackson Prep who pitched in the 90s?

Photo by Robert Smith

“Phew!” Griffin burst out laughing. “I don’t think I would do very well against either of them. Konnor has only been throwing curveballs for eight or 10 months now. So I think I should face him instead. Kennedy can make a softball do crazy things.

“She is in the running for national pitcher of the year. She’s added two new pitches this season – a change that’s not great but good, but also an abandoned pitch that Division I coaches have told me is as good as they’ll face all year .

Carruth said she used it to “get people off my fastball and get me down and up in the zone.”

Opponents beat .164 against her.

Carruth, a sophomore from St. Francesville, Louisiana, is also one of the team‘s top hitters with an average of .339, 5 home runs and 33 RBIs. She transferred to Belhaven in 2021 after two seasons at Coastal Alabama South Community College.

But the talent of this team is rich and deep.

Allie Gordon, a sophomore first baseman/third baseman, was Georgia’s Player of the Year his senior season in high school. She’s had plenty of Division I offers and her numbers show why: .421 average, 9 home runs, 44 RBIs. She leads the team in all three categories.

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“We had help with Allie,” Griffin said with a laugh. “I grew up with his parents. And because of the Covid rules, we will have it for two more seasons. She will graduate and then work on her Masters.

“She’s a great leader.”

Griffin pointed to two other players: Sophomore Gracey Baucom of Purvis was stellar on the mound: 10-3 with a 2.35 ERA. Senior Abby Trahan, an outfielder from Hackberry, La, doesn’t have flashy batting numbers (.281, 2 homers, 18 RBIs) but contributes so much more.

“Without Gracey giving us quality starts this year, I’m not sure we would be in the position we are in,” Griffin said. She worked very hard and was amazing for us in the circle.

“Abby competed in two junior college nationals at LSU-Eunice. The competitive motivation she brings to our team – knowing what it takes to win championships – has been invaluable. His leadership and experience are the engines of our success.

Sophomore Haley Hanson (.409, 31 RBI), rookie Ellie Jones (.407, 38 RBI) and senior Marlee Blackwell (.336, 43 hits) helped bring the charge home.

Griffin owes his share of the credit. Before coming to Belhaven, he coached high school softball and basketball in Georgia. His Windsor High softball team won the state championship in 1998.

Still, Griffin thought of himself as a basketball coach who also coached softball. His record on the Georgia courts was 171-54.

But softball has become a passion over the seasons. He coached softball at Clinton High School for three years before taking the job at Belhaven.

Now in his 12th season, his Blazers have won 362 games and counting.

“I took a baseball approach to softball,” he explained. “But I had to learn very quickly that softball and baseball are different. Things like bunt coverage are totally different, and I had to adapt to the speed of the game. But the swing is the same, the way you line up a ball on the ground is the same.

Photo by Robert Smith

“Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that girls have to feel good to play well, and boys have to play well to feel good.”

He’s recruited well, and he thinks one of the reasons is “we don’t shove softball down players’ throats 24 hours a day.”

He added: “We train hard, but we also want our girls to have a college life.”

Carruth thought it might just be a recruiting pitch.

“But when I got to school here, I realized that was really what it was,” she says. “I just think we’re a little more laid back about things. We don’t worry about coaches jumping on us with every little mistake, and that helps us relax and play the game.

“This school is so Christ-centered. People think we should do everything for the Lord. Our team plays together, but we also hang out together. We are very close.”


The softball playoffs follow the same path as Division I baseball: Regional, Super Regional, and World Series.

Last season brought a season-ending heartache.

After finishing the regular season 30-8, the Blazers were eliminated at two in the conference tournament and were eliminated after three games in the regional.

“Kennedy suffered from kidney stones towards the end of last season, and that hurt us, of course,” Griffin said. “And I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of keeping our girls fresh throughout the course. We haven’t rested people like we could have. We made sure to do that this year.

Griffin loves this group of players “because they hate losing more than they love winning. That’s why our balance sheet is what it is. And I like the experience we have.

Photo by Robert Smith

He, as a conference champion, wants his team to play the conference tournament on the Belhaven campus. “But we don’t have lights on our pitch,” he said. “Last year Mississippi College let us use their field for the tournament. This year we’ll play it at Delta State (in Cleveland). I wish it were different, but that’s the way it is.”

When he’s not coaching softball, Griffin tries to watch as many of his sons’ games as possible. Konnor’s older brother, Kannon, plays for Florence High School.

“I catch some of the games midweek,” Griffin said. “It’s a lot easier these days with all the livestreams.”

Konnor is ranked as a top prospect in the Class of 2025. Most professional scouts and college recruiters see him as a 5-tool outfielder, but his throwing ability also intrigues them.

Barring an injury, he will have to make a decision in three years: turn pro or play college baseball.


Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that these are not robots in sports uniforms.

In the coming days, Konnor will play for a BUT Class 6A state championship while his father hopes to put national championship rings on his players.

Father and son will do their best to block out the pain, hours at a time, of losing a mother and grandmother. And they will recognize, perhaps more than ever, the difference in real life and the ball games that mimic it.

Yes, scores will still count. They would have mattered to her.


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