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Neelee Griffith ends her Milligan softball career with a bang

Contributed Photo from Milligan University • Neelee Griffith, an alumnus of Unicoi County High School, ended her career with the Milligan University softball team by setting a new home run record. Griffith recorded 29 home runs during her time with the Lady Buffs.

By Trey Williams

Milligan University softball player Neelee Griffith went out with a bang.

The Unicoi County alumnus set the Buffaloes’ career record for home runs this season. Griffith finished her career with 29 home runs. Megan Aldridge (Harmon) set the previous mark (26) in 2007.

Griffith might not have expected to break the record when she arrived at Milligan, but her coach, Wes Holly, wasn’t surprised that she achieved the feat.

“It was one of those things that Coach Holly had been talking about since I was a freshman and it just kind of finally started to sink in like, ‘Oh, he was right’ kind of thing,” Griffith said. “He said if I didn’t leave breaking the record he was gonna be disappointed.”

Griffith broke the record at Bluefield on April 4.

“I knew Neelee had good power,” Holly said. “And she did a great job for us defensively in center field and she did manage to set a new career home run record this year with 29. … She returned for her fifth year due to COVID and that allowed her the opportunity to break the home run record.”

Despite the extra year, Griffith actually ended her career with 97 fewer at-bats than Aldridge (Harmon) had. Griffith hit 29 home runs in 442 at-bats while Harmon hit 26 in 539 at-bats.

Griffith and Harmon,  one might say, have a powerful bond.

“Actually, Megan is my mom’s teaching partner at Liberty Bell,” Griffith said. “So I talked to her almost weekly during the season. My mom texted her like two or three minutes after I broke it, and she was like, ‘I just watched it. I’m so proud.’

“I talked to her like the next day. She’s always said if someone had to break it, she wanted to be able to know who it was. So I was excited that it got to be me.”

Griffith strengthened the team without her bat, too.

“Neelee was a great leader on our team and I think everyone looked up to her as a team mom,” Holly said. “I think the girls respected her and she set a good example for our ballclub. And she was very dependable. She’s been one of the most dedicated players I’ve had, because I had our on work study as well as a player, so I supervised her work study.

“And Neelee’s a very conscientious and dependable young lady. So I have no doubts that she will be successful in whatever she attempts to do in the future.”

The future could include coaching, though Griffith doesn’t anticipate that happening anytime soon, if at all. Along with a double major, she minored in coaching.

“So eventually maybe, but just not in the cards right now,” Griffith said. “I just accepted a job with Ballad in clinical education.”

Griffith enjoyed her time playing for Holly and former Unicoi County coach Grady Lingerfelt, who announced his resignation last week.

“Coach Holly and Grady are very similar in coaching styles,” she said. “So moving from Grady to Coach Holly was not that big of a difference to me. … Coach Holly is more of a driver. He’s gonna push you until you don’t think you can go anymore kind of thing.

“Grady’s there for the fun, and that works. I mean he has had a successful coaching career.”

Griffith’s sister Allee was having a productive season for Milligan, but her time was cut short due to a concussion.

“She was playing first base and the third baseman was throwing to first and threw a little bit up the line and the ball hit off of the runner’s helmet and hit her in the head right above one of her eyes,” Neelee said. “She walked off the field and started puking.”

Allee played in 18 of 38 games for Milligan, which went 23-15 overall and 18-10 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. She batted .353 in limited action (12-for-34).

“Allee was in our rotation at first base for us and doing a good job hitting and everything,” Holly said. “We’re looking forward to her next year coming in and being one of our power hitters and good defensive players.”

Neelee said Allee’s absence hurt the team in a variety of ways.

“Well, she is the loudmouth on the team, the comedian kind of thing,” Neelee said. “So for her not to be able to be around and to be in the dugout definitely was a little bit of a mood killer as a whole. And for me, it was more of just that I see the moments that she could have been beneficial that she couldn’t be there for, or where her strengths would have come into play several times that we didn’t get the opportunity to use.

“And so for me, it just kind of made me feel defeated a little bit – just the fact that I knew she could have succeeded in that moment, and she couldn’t even have an opportunity.”

Life without softball will take some getting used to. It’s essentially the only life Neelee’s known.

“Well, it’s definitely been a roller-coaster,” Neelee said. “Probably the favorite part of that is, you know, getting to be you know, with my sister and with teammates that I probably would call sisters now. And to have set the record this year, I think, was more important to me because I felt closer to my teammates this year than I ever had before. Maybe because it was my senior year; not sure.

“But definitely, it’s just a blessed feeling all around to be able to play softball for 17 or 18 years now.”

Neelee’s love for the game couldn’t have been more obvious.

“I would not be surprised at all if she coaches, because she has a love for the game and she’s very passionate about it and dedicated,” Holly said. “She’s a hard worker. Neelee worked hard on her fundamentals. So you never know, you might see her back over at Unicoi someday.”