ATHENS -- With two runners in scoring position, University of Georgia first baseman Emily Digby stepped up to the plate. The Bulldogs had a 12-run lead over Florida State in the top of the fifth. Digby launched the first pitch over the left field fence for a three-run home run. Her team rushed out of the dugout and huddled around home plate in celebration.

But the runs didn’t count. The score remained 20-8.

Unbeknownst to Digby, with the game in “run rule” territory, UGA head coach Tony Baldwin had instructed Jaiden Fields to step off of third base early, resulting in the second out of the inning and negating the home run.

Even without the homer, Digby finished the game with two doubles and a single for three RBIs and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. That game in February, recognized as Digby’s breakout game by Baldwin, is a telltale story of her freshman season thus far.

Starting with their Southeastern Conference tournament opener Wednesday against Auburn, the Bulldogs (38-15, 12-12 in the SEC) will continue to lean on Digby’s offensive and defensive consistency.

She is the only underclassman in the Bulldogs’ starting lineup this season.

“A lot of people think it would be scary,” Digby said. “But I personally, I feel blessed because I have so many people I can look up to and learn.”

Digby is one of just three players to start in each of the Bulldogs’ 53 games this season. The other names on that list? Senior Jayda Kearney and fifth-year player Sara Mosley, who have etched their names into the Georgia softball record books.

“What she has brought,” Baldwin said of Digby, “is a consistent presence at first that makes the other infielders feel more confident and comfortable and ultimately has allowed our infield and just the team defense to work in as a good unit.”

The team has only committed 35 errors on the season and is tied for 14th in the nation with a .976 fielding percentage.

Digby, a natural shortstop, made the transition to first base this season, a position the Bulldogs’ coaching staff was looking to stabilize. Kearney and Sydney Chambley had been taking reps at the base but were more confident as outfielders. Baldwin gave Digby the opportunity, and it stuck.

Digby leads the team with 310 putouts. She has generated 16 double plays and has a fielding percentage of .994 on the season.

“She’s got a cool way about her. She’s not cocky. I mean, she should be a little cocky, but the humble part of her is what I love,” said Brett Sampson, head coach of Georgia Impact 18u Premier, Digby’s former team.

While Digby has come up big in many crucial at-bats this season, she did fall victim to a mid-season hitting slump. Through nine games in mid-March, Digby did not record an RBI or any extra-base hits.

“All the veterans stepped up and had my back, really expressed and showed that it happens to everybody,” Digby said.

Accustomed to having seasoned players to look up to is nothing new for the younger Digby as she played up an age group in travel ball.

“It’s coming in faster than she can process it all,” Baldwin said. “But she’s learning a lot.”

He added that he thinks the experience has prepared Digby for a “really promising” finish this season and overall college career.

Her success in the sport, while it may go beyond her time donning the red and black, has always pointed her towards UGA, her “dream school.” Digby grew up attending softball camps and games at Jack Turner Stadium, but the connection is not just rooted in athletics.

With her hometown of Dacula, Georgia, a short 45-minute drive away and her older sister, Elisa, who graduated from UGA, still living in the Athens area, UGA has become her home away from home.

Her sister has seen Digby go from a 5-year-old wearing a UGA cheerleading Halloween costume to suiting up in her own UGA jersey and taking the field as a true freshman starter.

“When I come here [Jack Turner Stadium], it’s always a fun time. I can’t tell you a time where I haven’t been here and I’m not smiling,” Digby said.

Audrey Pfitzner is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.