CHS Seeks 3rd Trip To
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
After realignment, Commerce will be in Area 8-A with Jefferson,
Buford and Rabun Gap. An area tournament will be held Oct. 3-4
The two teams in the finals will adavance to the state sectionals
in Gainesville. The top four teams at sectional advance to the
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
"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."
When the Banks County High School softball
team takes the field Saturday, a lot will be different from last
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
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
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
The top four teams at sectional will move to the state tournament
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
"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
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.
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.