Jeff Hurndon Photography
Union Grove senior shortstop Elizabeth Burton has provided some solid fielding for the second-ranked Wolverines this season. The Wolverines open Region 3-AAAA tournament play on Monday against the winner of the Dutchtown vs. Upson-Lee game.
Luella opens the region tournament on Tuesday at top-seed East Coweta, which is ranked No. 4 in the latest PrepCountry.com/GACA Coaches Softball Poll.
The Lions enter the double-elimination tournament on a six-game losing streak, which includes an 8-2 loss to East Coweta on Tuesday.
Luella coach Seth Harris said his young team has started to jell and are now finding the right chemistry. The team has rallied behind pitcher Bre Washington.
The Lions starting lineup only includes one senior, so Harris is encouraged about the future of the program.
This might be the most competitive region tournament involving teams from the area. There are five teams from the region that are ranked in the latest coaches’ poll including Union Grove, Northgate, Ola, Jones County and Whitewater.
Jones County is the defending state champions.
For several weeks, Union Grove was the top-ranked team in the classification as it rode a 19-game winning streak. However, after dropping two of its last three games, the Wolverines are ranked No. 2 in the latest poll.
The two losses have been to subregion opponents Ola (1-0) and Jones County (5-4). The five runs were the most the Wolverines had surrendered since a 6-5 win over Kennesaw Mountain on Aug. 26 in a tournament.
“We haven’t been playing well lately, but we are confident that we can still make the state playoffs,” Union Grove coach Rod Pipkin said. “We haven’t hit the ball well lately.”
But the Wolverines still have one of the state’s most talented pitchers in junior Megan Betsa.
Northgate in Coweta County has been the dominate team on the other side of the subregion. The Vikings have an 11-0 record in the subregion while Whitewater is in second place by a game over Harris County.
All three of Northgate losses have come to East Coweta, the No. 4 team in Class AAAAA, and North Gwinnett and Kennesaw Mountain, which are both in AAAAA.
Last season, Mundy’s Mill dominated this region and was ranked in the coaches’ poll most of the year. This season, the region has been a little more balanced.
Lovejoy will likely be this season’s top seed going into the tournament if its pitching continues to be solid. Coach Arthur Carter has relied on his daughter, Chasity, and Laurel Wynn to provide the majority of the pitching this season. Chasity Carter has thrown two no-hitters this season, including one against Creekside on Wednesday.
Although his team is currently in first place, Arthur Carter said that the region tournament is still up for grabs.
“Anybody can win it,” he said.
Jonesboro has been on a hot streak and has climbed into contention for a playoff spot. Mundy’s Mill has played a tough out-of-region schedule that could benefit the team in the postseason.
“We have been hot and cold all season,” Mundy’s Mill coach Patrick Smith said. “We are starting to jell at the right time. We have lost some close games.”
Locust Grove has clinched the top seed in next week’s region tournament after posting an 8-0 record. The Wildcats play their regular season final today at Luella before Monday’s tournament begins in Jackson.
Wildcats coach Chris Davis said that solid defensive play has been the key to the team’s success this season. He is also fortunate to solid pitching from Amanda Winters and Emily Brown. Winters, a senior, has a 9-2 record, and Brown, a freshman, is 5-3 on the season.
At the plate, Mary Emily is leading the team with a .489 average while Morgan Edwards sports a .333 average.
“The key in the region tournament is not to leave any runs on base,” Davis said.
There is no region tournament because of the odd number of regions in the classification. However, the key is to avoid being the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds because they must play a play-in game Oct. 7 to advance to the first round of the playoffs.
First Presbyterian Day will likely be the top seed from the region with Strong Rock, Eagle’s Landing Christian and Whitfield all battling for the No. 2 seed. All are in the tournament, they are just playing out the rest of the season to determine the seeding. Classes are out this week at Strong Rock, and coach Eddie Wise said having an extra week to prepare for the state tournament would be a bonus.
“Right now, most of my players are out of the country,” Wise said. “We need some time to get back into softball shape.”
He is also hoping that the time off will benefit Katie Jo Goodwin, who has been out the last two weeks with a leg injury. Prior to the injury, Goodwin was the team’s leading hitter with a .480 average. She was the team’s clean-up hitter and No. 2 pitcher.