Players cheer from the dugout during a NCAA softball game on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, at the Jack Turner Softball Stadium in Athens, Georgia. Georgia defeated Alabama State 9-1 in six innings. (Photo/Julian Alexander, jalexander@randb.com)

Following the NCAA’s March 30 ruling to give spring-sports athletes an extra year of eligibility, five of Georgia softball’s seven seniors decided to spend another season in Athens. Here is what each returning player will bring back to the diamond in 2021, and how the Bulldogs can replace those moving on.

Mary Wilson Avant

Avant led the Bulldogs in the circle in 2020 and will look to do the same in 2021. She ended the season leading the SEC with 120 strikeouts and tied for most wins in the conference with 11. In 75.1 innings pitched, the most on the team by 29.1, Avant allowed 15 earned runs and limited opponents to a .148 batting average. Her stamina in the circle was evident in her team-leading six complete games out of 14 starts. Ending her senior season as one of the best pitchers in the SEC, Avant will continue to be the backbone of the Bulldog’s rotation in 2021.

Ciara Bryan

A leader in the outfield and a power-hitting leadoff batter, Bryan ended 2020 among the best hitters in the country across multiple categories. She finished the shortened season with 11 home runs, tied for fourth most in the NCAA, and led the nation with 39 runs scored. Bryan topped the Bulldog offense in hits, slugging percentage and stolen bases, ranking in the top-50 nationally for all three statistics. She started all 28 games in 2020, with 22 appearances in center field and six in right field. Bryan will remain a key asset in the Bulldog’ starting nine next year.

Alley Cutting

After transferring from Kennesaw State for the 2019 season, Cutting made 14 of her first 27 appearances in relief. In 2020, Cutting pitched in 12 games and started four. She provided experience among Georgia relievers, often entering games to assist Avant or junior starting pitcher Lauren Mathis. She finished 2020 with a 1.88 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 37.1 innings pitched. While Avant and Mathis remain the faces of the Bulldogs’ pitching staff starting in the circle, Cutting will aim to once again finish teams off in 2021.

Mahlena O’Neal

As starting catcher, O’Neal has been a consistent asset in the field for the Bulldogs since 2017. During her four years in Athens, O’Neal appeared in 175 games and maintained a .997 fielding percentage. She started 24 games as catcher in 2020, throwing out three runners on 13 steal attempts and allowing three passed balls. O’Neal finished her senior year with a .222 batting average and three home runs.

Justice Milz

Milz has been a utility player for head coach Lu Harris-Champer for the past two seasons. In 12 2020 starts, she moved around the infield to play both first and second base while also appearing as the designated player. Although Milz's .231 batting average was a far cry from the .307 she posted in 2019, Harris-Champer may still employ her versatility as a general infielder for one last season.

Amanda Ablan

Utilized as a closing pitcher in 2020, Ablan appeared in five games, throwing seven scoreless innings. Ablan will leave Georgia with 38 total appearances and a 3.41 career ERA. Rather than hang back for 2021, Ablan leaves to attend the College of Charleston for graduate school. In her place, redshirt freshman Laura Bishop will have to take on a much larger role than her two appearances in 2020. With two earned runs in 2.1 innings pitched, it remains to be seen whether she’ll develop into a lock-down late reliever like Ablan. Georgia has also added two pitching recruits, Britton Rogers and Riley Orcutt.

Jordan Doggett

Georgia’s senior left fielder decided to spend her extra year of eligibility at Oklahoma State,  leaving behind big shoes to fill both in the batting order and in the outfield. Doggett was a top-5 Bulldog hitter in 2020, notching a .360 batting average and 27 runs, one shy of her 52-game total last season. The Bulldogs may fill her gap in the outfield with rising senior Tyler Armistead, who started 26 games in left field in 2019 and made three starts in the outfield in 2020. Armistead ended the year with a .222 average and nine RBIs in 16 appearances. Harris-Champer will miss out on Dogget’s potential to continue trending upward in 2021, and she’ll need her other experienced players, including Armistead and rising senior Jacqui Switzer to step up in order to stay competitive.

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