Area Sports...

 August 16, 2000


CHS Seeks 3rd Trip To State
The Commerce-Columbus connection has only been strenghthened over the past two seasons of high school softball.
Making the tournament for the first time in 1998, the team improved its performance last season by finishing third in Class A.
After realignment, Commerce was faced with having to create a new schedule. Several teams that had moved out of the region and up to Class AA were not available for the season. That left Commerce to seek tournaments which include several Class AAA, AAAA and AAAAA teams.
"When we added another class, a lot of schools could no longer schedule games with us," coach Donnie Drew said. "There were not that many games sitting around available. I decided to pick up some area tournaments. Playing four games in one day will give us a chance to slip in some younger players who might not have played in a regular doubleheader."
This year, the Tigers will seek a third straight trip to state with a mix of new and veteran players.
"I'm looking forward to this team," Drew said. "We've got some young players, but I feel good about their capabilities and their backgrounds. Whether we're outmatched by some of these larger schools, we'll have to see. It's a tough schedule, but it should help us down the road."
Seniors Elizabeth Roller and Shemika Reed have been on the field since they were freshmen.
Other seniors, Lauren Flint, Heather Stockton and Lauren Ladd will also contribute as returning starters.
The team will have several sophomores and juniors starting as well.
After realignment, Commerce will be in Area 8-A with Jefferson, Buford and Rabun Gap. An area tournament will be held Oct. 3-4 at Buford.
The two teams in the finals will adavance to the state sectionals in Gainesville. The top four teams at sectional advance to the state tournament.
Jefferson
Jefferson will return nine of the 10 starters that earned the Area 8-A title last season.
Led by Annie Goza, Lee DuBose and Stacey Anderson, all of whom hit .500 or better in 1999, the Dragons appear poised for a repeat of last year's success that took them to the state tournament in Columbus last autumn.
"If we play up to our capabilities, we could be as good as we were last year, if not better," Jefferson coach DeMaris Gurley said.
"If we begin the season focused on our goal, we'll have a good season," Gurley said. "If we begin the season nonchalant, it will be pretty much like last year, we'll have to dig ourselves out of a hole."



BCHS starts softball Friday
When the Banks County High School softball team takes the field Saturday, a lot will be different from last year.
Gone are the seven players lost to graduation. Moved is the existing lineup to include one girl in the same position she played last year. Changed is the area the team will play against.
But it will still be Leopard softball.
"I'm looking forward to this season," BCHS coach Mike Gordon said. "I like the attitude. I'm thinking that we may surprise some people this year."
Banks County will open the 2000 season this weekend by playing the Dragon Booster Club tournament in Jefferson, a tournament the Leopards opened the 1999 season by winning.
Gordon said the tournament is a chance to get several games in and evaluate players before the regular season begins.
"We'll play a minimum of four games," Gordon said. "We'll get a chance to see how we are under fire. We'll get a chance to see what changes we need to make. And we'll make decisions about what batting order will work better for us."
For more on the Jefferson tournament, please turn to page 7B.
Gordon will start the season with a starting lineup, but it is not inflexible.
Regina Veal, who toed the rubber several games at the end of last year for the Leopards, will return as pitcher.
Janet Crutchfield will start behind the plate.
Seniors Taffy Carruth and Laura Mitchell will both see time at first base.
Ashley Reece will start at second base. Sophomore Ashley Freeman will settle in at shortstop. Danielle Couch will play third base.
Haley Crumley will move over in the outfield to left field. Megan Williams will play left centerfield.
Ashley Gowder will play right center. Maggie Elrod will play in right field and also see time at pitcher.
"We'll probably go with those 11," Gordon said. "That doesn't mean I won't change it later."
Banks County will open the regular season Tuesday in Commerce with a doubleheader aginst the Tigers.
Banks County's area includes Dawson County, East Hall and Apalachee, a new school in Barrow County.
The top two teams from the area will advance to the sectional tournament.
The top four teams at sectional will move to the state tournament in Columbus.

Area softball teams take the field Friday
Both the Lady Panthers of Jackson County and Jefferson's Lady Dragons will take to the field Saturday for their first competitive games of the 2000 fall season. The Jefferson Booster Club will host its 10th annual season-opening tournament beginning Friday, while Jackson County travels to Watkinsville to participate in the Oconee County Shootout. Jackson County will host a tournament of its own next weekend, at Lamar Murphy Park.
Last year, both teams featured strong offense and steady defensive play. After winning the regular-season area championship, Jackson County was upset in the area tournament and shut out of state play. Jefferson overcame early-season losses to not only qualify for the state class A tournament, but also advance to the final eight in Columbus.
In 2000, the two teams enter the season facing strikingly different situations. Jefferson returns nine of 10 regular starters from last year's team, and is the pick of many to win the state class A championship. Meanwhile, players and coaches at Jackson County are expecting to surprise a lot of folks by fielding a number of highly talented freshmen in positions where seniors stood last year.
JEFFERSON LOOKS STRONG
Everything went Jefferson's way during the 1999-2000 off season. Not only did the team lose only two players to graduation, but the massive realignment by the GHSA moved some strong teams up to class AA.
Infielders Annie Goza, Lee DuBose and Brooklyne Marlowe should keep things clean on defense, with help from newcomer Taryn Gurley, who will likely step in at second base for the now-graduated Misty Lance. Also returning in the infield are pitcher Melinda Floyd and catcher Michelle Boring.
Speed is the name of the game in the outfield, and the Lady Dragons should be even faster than in 1999. Stacey Anderson, Staci Childress, Lara Bridges and Emily Jackson are the likely outfielders.
Jefferson outscored opponents by a whopping 11-5 average in 1999. Goza and Bridges combined for 21 home runs and 95 runs batted in to lead the charge. Three Lady Dragon starters - Goza, Anderson and DuBose - hit over .500 for the season.
With only three other teams - Commerce, Buford and Rabun Gap - in the Lady Dragons' area, the team is likely to qualify for the state tournament again. Both Buford and Commerce have lost key players, and Rabun Gap is thought to be well short of the number of quality players needed in order to be competitive.
The Lady Dragons face varied competition this weekend in the Booster Club tournament. Both Glascock County and Temple are expected to show up with teams rich in talent. In addition, Bryan County ­ also expected to be in the running for a state title ­ will participate, as will area foe Buford. Jefferson begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, against GHSA newcomer Apalachee.
LADY PANTHERS WILL BE YOUNG
Jackson County faces a situation similar to that faced by Jefferson a few years ago. The Panthers lost six players to graduation, and two for other reasons. Head coach Clarke Rainwater will look to a bumper crop of strong freshmen to step in and fill the gaps.
"We've got some good players coming up," Rainwater said after a practice last week. "We'll have freshmen probably at first, second and left field."
Many of Rainwater's elder players will be learning as well. Two-year starting catcher Megan Elliott will move to the other side of the plate and assume pitching duties. Shortstop April Cantrell will take her strong arm to left-center, in an attempt to make up for the losses of Krystal Britt and Abrielle Varnum on the left side. Third-baseman Brandi Lejeune will likely be tabbed to take Cantrell's spot at short.
"The biggest thing for us is confidence," said Rainwater. "The kids aren't even in school yet, and they're hearing things like, 'You aren't going to be as good this year.' Even a few older folks have said things like that. I've told them not to worry about things like that, to keep their chins up. Athletically, we can be as good as we were the last couple of years, it's just a matter of these freshmen and sophomores meshing with a couple of juniors and seniors." Rainwater also expects Allie Allen and Brandy Barber- both of whom missed last year - to be back.
"The key for us is chemistry, and seeing how these younger kids react. That's why we play travel ball in the summer, and go to national tournaments. Some of the folks we see there are at least as good as what we'll see during the season."
Jackson County's area is comprised of three Atlanta-area schools, Winder-Barrow and Elbert County. The Blue Devils are the preseason favorite to take the area title.
"Elbert is going to be the teamto beat. They were third in the state last year in AA, and they only lost one girl." Rainwater is hopefully optimistic about his team's chances of making the state tournament.
"Are we going to have as good a team as we did last year that didn't go to sectionals? I don't think so. But we could. We could actually go farther than last year, simply because our area is going to be really, really weak."
How does he respond to the naysayers who don't give his team much of a chance?
"I told the girls just to get excited. People are probably not going to expect a lot, but if we start expecting what they expect, we're not going to get much."
The Lady Panthers square off against Heritage at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Elbert and Winder are also in the Oconee tournament.


Fast or slow?
Area teams make hard softball choice
Slow or fast? It is not a decision of which lane to drive in but it is the softball question facing high schools across Georgia.
The Georgia High School Association began offering a state championship in fast-pitch softball in 1994, based on a request by some Atlanta area schools, GHSA executive director Tommy Guillebeau said.
"DeKalb County made a request for us to add fast-pitch," Guillebeau said. "We brought in all of their schools and used that as an experiment to see how much interest there would be. It mushroomed from there. Gwinnett County jumped in. Cobb County jumped in. Now we've got more fast-pitch than slow-pitch."
Fast-pitch overtook slow-pitch in the number of schools in 1998-99, according to Georgia High School Association participation survey numbers, with 178-173.
For the current school year, 231 schools will feature fast-pitch, compared to 146 slow-pitch schools. Some schools feature both teams.
Madison County made the switch to fast-pitch in varsity in 1998. Their decision was based on gaining scholarships for their players.
"We felt like we had a lot of girls that were good athletes," Madison County coach Doug Kesler said. "We felt like we were handicapping them as far as getting college scholarships."
Kesler said getting a slow-pitch player exposure with a fast-pitch college coach is difficult.
"The next to last year we had slow-pitch, we had a tremendous player and fast-pitch coaches wouldn't even look at her.
"Since going to fast-pitch, we've had one girl, who wanted to go into nursing, get a chance to go to school on a scholarship."
While fast-pitch players may get more exposure to college coaches, it is not impossible to make the move from high school slow-pitch to college fast-pitch.
Banks County High School, who plays slow-pitch, had two players from last year's team earn college scholarships for a fast-pitch team.
But like other schools, Banks County is planning to make the move to fast-pitch in the next two years.
"Our region is in the process of working toward fast-pitch," Banks County athletic director Rance Gillespie said. "We won't do it all at once. But over the next couple of years we plan on implementing fast-pitch softball.
"Most of the teams we'd be playing are going to fast-pitch. It's coming. There's not a whole lot we can do. We have to go with it."
Jefferson also plans to be playing varsity fast-pitch by 2002.
Commerce and Jackson County do not have current plans to make a switch to fast-pitch.
"I'm going to keep fast-pitch here as long as the administration and athletic director let us," Jackson County softball coach Clarke Rainwater said. "I hope it will stay. The problem I see is, eventually, who will you play?"
When teams introduce fast-pitch, maintaining a slow-pitch team as well can be a drain on available players.
"We tried to offer both," Kesler said. "But there was not enough interest to field a slow-pitch team. Slow-pitch is still a great game. But we felt we needed to put our kids on an equal playing field."
SEC SLOW-PITCH?
Recent rumors have spread throughout the state that the Southeastern Conference would be adding slow-pitch softball to help even participation numbers for Title IX, a federal law which requires equal opportunities for women in education and athletics.
An SEC spokesperson said the body was unaware of any such move.
"I've heard that rumor before this week," SEC media relations assistant Chuck Dunlop said. "(Slow-pitch) may come as an institutional decision to satisfy Title IX requirements. But (the SEC) will only recognize fast-pitch."
Steve Colquit, editor of the University of Georgia athletic department's Georgia Bulldog Magazine, said the school was looking at adding another varsity sport for women in the next two years.
"They haven't made a decision on which one to go with," Colquit said. "But they are not looking at slow-pitch."


Raiders hope experience equals success
If there's a magic brew for winning, the fundamental ingredient is experience. And with eight seniors on this year's Madison County fast-pitch softball team, many Raider fans foresee a feast come playoff time.
"This year is what we've been building toward," said fifth-year Raider coach Doug Kesler.
Last year, Madison County put forth a strong showing in one of the state's toughest areas, posting a 24-8 record, outmatched only by a few teams, such as perennial powerhouses Dacula and Oconee County.
Now, after the state's re-alignment of sports classifications, the Raiders appear to be the big fish in a smaller pond. Kesler said his seniors should give opponents fits. His squad will be paired with Stephens, Elbert, Hart and Franklin counties, with the top two teams out of that area advancing to the state sectionals in October.
"Anybody can beat us, but we're probably the favorite," Kesler said. "We'll have to remember that everybody will be gunning for us."
Kesler said his players hit the field over the summer and should be strong in nearly every aspect of the game. The Raiders have three experienced pitchers - Sheena Mason, Lyndsey Barnette and Rebecca Booker. And those hurlers are backed by a solid infield.
"We should be strong defensively," said Kesler. "We've got people in the infield who have been playing there a couple of years."
While the loss of two seniors from last year's squad - Tawana Moon and Lyndsay Weaver - won't be overlooked, the coach seems confident his players can fill any void.
"We're not expecting anybody to step up and produce 50 RBIs (like Moon)," said Kesler. "But we should be able to have other players produce more and spread it out some."
This year's team includes eight seniors: Mason, pitcher; Booker, pitcher and second base; Shelley Bates, catcher; Renee Mathews, third base; Valerie Norman, first base; Lauren Stopczynski, outfield; Heather Jones, shortstop; and Brittney Escoe, outfield.
Second baseman Amanda Lewis is the team's only junior. Sophomores - including junior varsity players - are: Barnette, pitcher and outfield; Sarah Owen, outfield; Brooke Kesler, catcher; Daniel Johnson, Lyndsey Mason, Shannon Patton, Melanie Elrod and Kala Keese. Freshmen include Casey Allen, Devin Burroughs, Sarah Gaskin, Rebecca Hancock, Brandi Robertson, Taylor Sapp, Candace Shubert, Jennifer Stone, Bonnie Westbrook and Amanda Crowe.
NEXT
After opening the season by drilling Cedar Shoals 10-0 Monday, the Raiders will open play in the Madison County Leadoff Classic today (Wednesday) at 4:30 p.m. against Habersham Central. The team will play later Wednesday at home at 8 p.m. against Social Circle. The Raiders aren't scheduled to take the field again until Friday and Saturday. They will play at home both days with times and opponents to be announced later.


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