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Lady Eagles retire No. 27 for Lee

COVINGTON — After a stellar softball career at Eastside and at the collegiate level, including a trip to the Women’s College World Series, Catherine Lee will receive the ultimate honor at her alma mater. No one else will be wearing the No. 27 as she is having her number retired in a ceremony before the Griffin game on Sept. 2.

“I feel like Cat has done so much for our program as far as her career after Eastside,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “We just want to honor her for what she did and accomplished at Eastside but also during her softball career after Eastside.

“Cat was a tremendous player for us, as well as an outstanding individual and went further than anyone in our program history. Cat exemplified everything a coach could ever want in a player; team player, hard worker, outstanding hitter and strong presence behind the plate.”

Besides softball, Lee also lettered in basketball and tennis all four years while managing to graduate with honors.

“I had no idea they were going to do this. I was completely shocked and very honored,” Lee said. “When I played in high school it was the fondest. I think that’s part of the reason it’s such a rush of euphoric nostalgia that’s so exciting because I think of the girls I played with like Christie Rice, Allison Jones and Heather Hodge.

“The four of us were obviously really tight because we grew up playing against each other then we ended up playing with each other. It was like a perfect storm because we were all in high school together. It was so much fun playing with them. In my first year we weren’t very good and I don’t really remember that because we had so much fun,” Lee said.

While Lee is associated with championship teams, there was a time when Eastside was not as good and she did not take the game so serious. One fond story she often likes to tell was when Lady Eagles pitcher Ashley Cowan (Coles) struck out 19 batters and hit a home run but they still lost 2-1.

It wasn’t until tragedy hit when she realized how much she loved the game and started becoming the player she turned into.

Lee had an on-field injury where she broke both bones in her leg in the summer before her junior year. Even though she was in the dugout supporting the team, she was unable to play and contribute. That time off allowed her to focus on what she really wanted and ended up giving her a new perspective in the game. Not only did she find that inner drive and strength, she also found out how many people cared and were cheering for her.

“There were so many people that were in my corner. Everybody was very helpful and very encouraging. I tell people all the time I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play at a school like this (Missouri) or at Georgia State for that matter had it not been for me breaking my leg. I say that because I had a new perspective on the game. I was miserable and it was torturous having to watch. But not only from the mental side was I able to learn a new outlook for the game, I spent that entire summer on crutches and got a lot stronger. Before, I was a decent hitter but I consistently started hitting home runs.”

Lee returned her senior year and batted a .353 while going yard seven times driving in 37 runs. She became an even better hitter in her first two years at Georgia State University. Some of the records she broke seven years ago still stand.

She currently holds the career batting average at GSU with a .375 while holding single-season records in home runs (17), RBIs (63), runs scored (51) and slugging percentage (.810). Lee also hold several single-game records with six hits, six runs scored and hit three doubles in two separate games.

In 2008, Lee was named the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie and Player of the Year.

After transferring to Missouri, Lee finished her 2010 season with the seventh-most walks while have a .676 slugging percentage was 10th in the Big 12. She earned Big 12 Player of the Week April 13-18 where she had a .727 batting average with seven RBIs, three doubles, three walks and two stolen bases.

In her senior year, Lee hit two doubles in the Women’s College World Series to help the Tigers advance.

Her senior year was also when Wood came to the team as an assistant with then head coach Pete Mattice. Lee said that Wood brought the kind of youthful enthusiasm that was needed in the program. “She really whipped us into shape,” she added. “I don’t remember being worked like that until I got to college.”

That work ethic was what they needed as the Lady Eagles made to the Elite Eight in Class AAAA and started a era where the Eastside program was known throughout the state.

“There’s advice as a player I could give then there’s recruiting advice and those types of things. I heard this from a coach during my junior year when I was coming back and I didn’t know if I was going to play in college. He looked at me and was upset because Allison Jones and I were goofing around when a player that came from Georgia State and College University came out to help out during one of the practices. I looked at him and said I don’t even know if I’m going to play in college. He looked at me and said are you kidding me? It’s not if you can play in college, it’s where you’ll play in college,” Lee said.

“That’s something that stuck with me for a long time. That’s the biggest thing, if you want to play in college you can play in college. It’s just finding the right fit.”

Lee is currently working on her PhD at Missouri.