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Changing of the guard ... again

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

Eagle's Landing Christian's Keith Batchelor was sitting in an O'Charley's Restaurant earlier this summer having dinner with his wife when he received an important text message from athletic director Scott Queen.

Simply put, the school's girls' basketball coach had just been handed some additional coaching duties--taking over as head softball coach.

The changing of the guard came when former coach Lacey McClendon and her family moved to Athens to be closer to her husband's job.

Batchelor is the third softball coach to be in charge of the Lady Chargers the last three seasons.

Despite the coaching changes, ELCA has turned into a softball dynasty, winning the last four Class A titles, including last year when the team went 31-5.

They will go for a fifth this year with some new faces in the lineup.

Gone is last year's Player of the Year catcher Julia Echols, who is now at the University of Georgia, and all-state selection short stop Kacie Patterson who earned a scholarship to Georgia Perimeter College.

"You don't replace them. They way they played, the game and their leadership," he said.

The Lady Chargers also lost pitcher Megan Betsa who transferred to Union Grove after leading ELCA to the state title as a freshman a year ago.

Pitching has carried the Lady Chargers to its state title success.

Former ELCA pitcher Hope Rush was the ACC Freshman of the Year at Georgia Tech last season, and Betsa helped the team pick up where it left off when Rush graduated.

Now the pitching duties rest with Michel Bell and Ellis Fields.

Bell has battled a shoulder injury this summer and will be brought around slowly, but Fields also had a strong summer with her travel team.

Despite all the changes, Batchelor isn't about to panic. The new coach likes the team he has inherited. ELCA softball fans shouldn't be worried either.

Before taking over as the school's new varsity coach, Batchelor had plenty of success on the softball diamond at the middle school level.

Many of the softball players also play basketball for the veteran coach, making it an easy transition for both Batchelor and his troops.

"There is a lot of tradition here," he said. "But we can't worry about that. We lost some really good players, so this is a new year for us, and we have to go out there and keep it going with the players we have. I feel confident with the players we have coming back."

Senior Symone Ball is ready to step up and take on that leadership role. Ball, who is listed as the team's second baseman is also expected to do some catching for the Lady Chargers. Fields will also catch when not pitching

"We are trying to keep some of those traditions, but also embrace everything that is changing, so that is sort of how we are attacking the season."

A year ago Jordon Tomasello tried to juggle playing both volleyball and softball. This year she will concentrate just on softball.

Another seniors who will try and go out on a high note by giving the school its fifth straight state title is Denver Burton.

The Lady Charges begin that quest for a fifth title tonight when they open the year at the South Gwinnett Classic. ELCA plays Peachtree Ridge and Collins Hill.