Photo by Brian Paglia
Union Grove pitcher Megan Betsa threw 397 strikeouts last season to help lead the Wolverines to a No. 3 ranking in the state in Class AAAA.
Eagle's Landing Christian
Coach: Doug Campbell
Last season: 10-11
Returning starters: 4
Outlook: Campbell, who has been a successful baseball coach at the school, takes over the softball program this fall. The team has only four seniors, with the remaining roster being filled out by freshmen and sophomores. Former standout pitcher Hope Rush worked some with the pitchers this summer. Campbell has moved some players around in order to come up with a solid lineup. He is expecting a good year out of shortstop Amber Athom. Outfielders Morgan Evans and Ashlyn Perry have moved to the infield.
Strength: Campbell said the team looked solid at centerfield, the infield and catcher. He said he has some versatile players that will be asked to play different positions.
Cause for concern: Pitching, with Michelle Bell coming back after limited work last season. Campbell expects her to be fully ready by midseason. She will play both third and first when not on the mound. Bell is also the team's best hitter.
Keep an eye on: Bell. A lot of the season will depend on how quickly she gets back on the mound. Casey Durham, a freshman infielder, is expected to produce quickly.
Campbell says: "We have some young girls that will be trying to learn as they play. It will be tough. We have to stay healthy. We are depending on some people to carry us. We have some big expectations."
Coach: Seth Harris
Last season: 15-12
Returning starters: 1
Outlook: The Lions will be very young, with five freshmen receiving a lot of playing time. Getting back to the state playoffs could be a chore with an inexperienced group. Sophomore Bre Washington will again handle the majority of the pitching duties. Shortstop Alexia Boggess is expected to have a big year from the leadoff spot.
Strength: The continuing development of Washington will give the Lions a chance to be in every game.
Cause for concern: Inexperience, with five freshmen looking to get a lot of playing time.
Keep an eye on: Washington, who was 10-5 last season on the mound. Outfielder Alyssa Valentin covers a lot of ground, according to Harris.
Harris says: "We have some very high expectations from Bre this season. She has matured a lot and we feel she is ready to go."
Coach: Patrick Smith
Last season: 18-2
Returning starters: 5
Outlook: Last season, the Tigers breezed through the regular season winning the county and tournament championships. However, graduation has taken a toll on the team, with Jadae Taylor graduating, and Savannah McHellon, a standout pitcher, has transferred to Ola. There are five returning starters, and the coaching staff is looking for Lola Ogunnoiki, Danika Stevens and Krystal Dewberry to step up to fill the void. Smith has upgraded the Tigers' schedule, which should prepare them for the region tournament.
Strength: Fielding has improved, and the Tigers look to cut down on errors. Smith calls this a "skilled group" with a solid infield.
Cause for concern: Pitching will have to step up with the loss of McHellon. Smith will be relying on Kendalyn Aceneaux and Stevens to give them some innings. The majority of the pitching might come from freshman Shawntrice Callaway. The Tigers must overcome the inexperience at pitching and catching to again challenge for the region championship.
Keep an eye on: Aceneaux. Smith said she has worked in the offseason to get better at pitching.
Smith says: "We are definitely a young team. We are going to compete and play hard. We must stay focused. We have to win at every position this season, and not just count on one person."
Coach: Gidget Gue
Last season: 22-10
Returning starters: 5
Outlook: If pitching is the key to winning in softball, the Mustangs should be in the region playoff hunt. Ola returns pitcher Lindsay Sheets for her senior season. The Mustangs got a big surprise during the summer when Savannah McHellon moved into their district. Last season, the sophomore helped lead Mundy's Mill to a region championship and state playoff berth. In addition, outfielder Jayla Hitchens, a senior, moved in from Delaware. Gue has also added Heather and Hannah Morris and Debbie Hammond to the roster.
Strength: The Mustangs will have the combined power of solid pitching and fielding to help make a run at the playoffs.
Cause for concern: There is not any noticeable missing link for the Mustangs, who compete in a tough Region 3-AAAA.
Keep an eye on: Sheets and McHellon. They give Ola a potent 1-2 pitching attack that few teams have. Catcher Hunter Williamson is also back for her senior season, along with Taylor Anderson (shortstop), Maegan Coddington (third base), Jordon Brown (third/outfielder) and Laura Carter (first base/outfielder).
Gue says: "We are hoping to make a run. We definitely have some high expectations."
Strong Rock Christian
Coach: Eddie Wise
Last season: 21-13
Returning starters: 2
Outlook: The Patriots' first season in the Georgia High School Association last season produced a playoff berth and trip to the Class A Elite Eight. The two returning starters are Katie Shultes and Katie Jo Goodwin. They will alternate between pitching and playing third base. Again, the Patriots will play a competitive schedule that includes some Class AAAA and AAA teams. If the fielding holds up, Wise is confident the team will be able to manufacture some runs.
Strength: Pitching. With the return of Shultes, the Patriots have a quality arm that will keep them in most games.
Cause for concern: With such a young team, fielding might be a problem at times. Wise will have several inexperienced players in the lineup this fall.
Keep an eye on: Shultes. Last season she had 250 strikeouts. Wise is confident that she will surpass that mark this season. Summer Thomas and Sarah Adams will be looked to provide leadership as seniors.
Wise says: "The early part of the year I'm concerned with our defense. I'm not sure who will end up at some spots. I'm also concerned if we can score when we need to."
Coach: Rod Pipkin
Last season: 32-11
Returning starters: 6
Outlook: With the return of standout pitcher Megan Betsa, the Wolverines figure to challenge for the region championship. The majority of the team plays year-round softball, so experience will be a big plus for the team. Alison Waters will become the fulltime catcher after sharing the duties last season. In addition to some competitive tournaments, the Wolverines will face some stiff competition from inside the region with Ola, Woodland, Jones County, Northgate and Whitewater.
Strength: Experience. This group has been tested on both the high school level and through travel softball.
Cause for concern: Pipkin said with such a deep and talented team, his biggest concern is finding enough playing time for all the players.
Keep an eye on: Betsa. Last year she had an eye-popping 397 strikeouts and an impressive 0.77 ERA. Jordan Corbin and Haley Chambley, who has committed to Georgia State.
Pipkin says: "These girls take a lot of pride in their craft. I think whoever wins our region will have a good shot at winning state."