Area Sports...

AUGUST 14, 2002

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Fast-pitch frenzy
If Friday’s intersquad softball game did anything, it gave head coach Kevin Gaines the first look at his team’s performance.
“The main reason we had the game was to let us know the areas we need to work on,” Gaines said. “Now we can spend time trying to improve on some areas before the start of the season.”
Banks County has only a short time to make changes and prepare for the season after Friday’s game. Wednesday, the Lady Leopards were to host Habersham Central. The game’s results were not available by presstime.
They return to the field Thursday to host Towns County. The JV game will begin at 4:30 p.m.
Gaines’ preseason assessment focused on needed improvement in pitching, catching and hitting. He said the Lady Leopards planned to work on all three areas in coming practices.
The transition between slow-pitch and fast-pitch for many of the players hurts their hitting technique he said.
Defensively, Gaines said he feels he will enter the coming season with solid players in the field.
“Even being slow-pitch minded, defense is not as big of an adjustment as hitting and pitching,” Gaines said. “You’re still doing the same thing in the field.”
Seven of Banks’ 10 varsity players saw fast-pitch action last year. However, they still must overcome their slow-pitch technique picked up from years of playing the sport.
One of the biggest differences defensively for the team will be learning to read and defend against bunts and base stealing.
However, Gaines said the hitting still gives his players the most difficulty in making the transition.
“We’re still slow-pitch minded,” he said.
Despite that difficulty, Gaines said he still brings a talented group of girls to the softball diamond that have taken him in as their new head coach.
“They have responded to me real positively,” he said. “I’ve got a good group of girls who like playing the game. We’ve got some talent on our team this year.”
The Lady Leopards’ talent and ability to adjust to the new sport will be crucial in the coming season. They’ll be competing in one of the tougher AA regions in the state against some of the most solid opponents.
“There are a lot of talented teams in this area,” Gaines said.
Banks will have to face Greater Atlanta Christian, a team Gaines puts as one of the best in the state in all classifications.
GAC competed for the state championship just two years ago against Providence, a formidable opponent. Providence finished runner-up in the state last year.
Nonetheless, Gaines feels his team can remain competitive.
“With fast-pitch, anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” he said. “If we play an errorless game, hit the ball and pitch well, we can compete with anybody.”
One of the keys to making the season successful and staying competitive in the future will be converting to a fast-pitch attitude in Banks County.
The middle school, recreation department and junior varsity levels already compete in the sport. However, Gaines said off-season participation in traveling fast-pitch leagues will be important.
“The main thing we’ve got to do is phase slow-pitch out in this area all together,” Gaines said. “It hurts our teams as far as the technique and hitting. When you go and play slow-pitch, you take a step back.”
Gaines also hopes to build success by keeping the strong fan turnout from Friday’s intersquad game. He estimated around 80 people showed up for the event.
“It was unbelievable,” Gaines said. “If we can have that kind of response at every game, then the fans really can make a difference.”

Tigers, Spartans To Pop Pads In Thurs. Scrimmage
Preseason scrimmages are essentially high school football’s version of NFL exhibition games.
They give coaches the chance to finally see their team practice against someone else for a change.
The Commerce Tigers football team is set to pop pads in a Thursday scrimmage against recent-rival Athens Academy (no time has been specified yet).
Tiger head coach Steve Savage said the workout against Mike Gunn’s squad will give the Commerce coaching staff a chance to take a more focused look at their personnel.
“We’re going to play some young kids and play some kids that are on the edges,” he said. “It gives us a chance to get kids some experience and see who can help us.”
The Tigers and the Spartans have been familiar foes over the past 12 years, meeting nine times. The teams will match up again this fall on Oct. 18.
But Thursday’s scrimmage will be simply what it is—practice, not a preview of the Spartans.
“It’s just a scrimmage—nothing to get riled up about,” Savage said. “Neither team is going to show a whole lot.”
In scrimmaging Athens Academy, Commerce will be practicing against an opponent which downed them 34-7 last year en route to a 9-2 campaign which included a state quarterfinals appearance. Savage expects the workout against the Spartans to be beneficial to both squads.
“Both teams get along really well and enjoy the competition,” he said.
The scrimmage against Athens Academy will be the first of two preseason scrimmages for Commerce. The team will travel to Rabun County next Thursday for the other.
The Georgia High School Association allows each high school two full-pad, 36 “game-minute,” officiated scrimmages during the preseason.
Commerce has already been in full pads however on the practice field, stepping up workouts by adding more contact this past week.
Savage was encouraged by the way his players responded the more physical workouts.
“I went really well,” he said. “I thought we had a couple of good scrimmages this week. I thought Thursday’s scrimmage went really well. The kids really got after it.”
Savage praised the performance of his entire squad through the first three weeks of practice.
“There hasn’t been anyone that I’ve been disappointed with.”
Particularly, Savage said he has been impressed veterans with Nick Cox, Casha Daniels, Brandon Jennings, Taylor Massey and Kenny Flint.
As far as personnel, Savage said the team is “getting closer” to filling the question marks in their offense and defensive lineups.

Panthers set to host White County on Friday night
After three solid weeks of clashing against teammates this preseason, the Jackson County Panthers will get an opportunity to find out how far they’ve come and how much they need to improve, as White County comes calling for a scrimmage game Friday night at Panther Field.
The game will be played in accordance with Georgia High School Association rules which stipulate that teams are allowed to participate in 36-game-minutes of action against each other.
Friday’s contest will be a situation type scrimmage, with coaches more involved in the plays than normal, and often times out on the field with players behind the huddles. Also, the kicking game will be limited throughout, as the squads will focus more on regular offensive and defensive situations.
Referees are required by GHSA by-laws and will be present to call the game. Although they are there to protect players, as well as give them a regular season type atmosphere, the main objective according to JCCHS head coach Brent Brock is to give players a chance to play against another team.
“Basically what this does is give us a chance to compete against someone else on both sides,” Brock said. “We’ve been going at it now for a good three weeks against each other. Our main objective is to try to get in some situations and to give the kids a chance to get a look at themselves on tape.”
As far as starters for the regular season, Brock indicated that the Panthers are still finding out exactly who their starters are going to be, but noted that they have “a fairly good idea.”
Right now he feels like “seventy to eighty percent of the starters are set,” but no one is guaranteed a position. He also noted the importance competition at every position can have towards team development.
Friday’s scrimmage should offer at least a hint of things to come as far as positions, offensive plays and defensive formations and it will be the only chance for Panther fans to see their team in action against another squad before the start of the regular season.
Although GHSA rules allow teams to play as many as two 36-minute scrimmage games against other teams in the preseason, Jackson County is only scheduled to play one. However, they have scheduled an intersquad game for Aug. 22, eight days prior to the opening game.

Navas looking for improvement following scrimmage
After traveling to Greene County Friday for their first scrimmage of the preseason, Jefferson High School has much to work on before the start of the upcoming season, according to their coach Bill Navas.
Many in attendance Friday saw the Dragons display a balanced offensive attack in the situation style practice game, one that looks promising for the upcoming season. Others saw a defense that was hard hitting and motivating.
Navas, like most determined coaches, saw his team’s troubled spots though, and he’s looking to improve on his squad’s performance before the season opener Aug. 30 against Apalachee.
“We have to be tougher, more disciplined and assignment efficient for us to be more effective,” he said.
The Dragons looked to throw the ball more Friday than usual, Navas said, because the Tigers were crowding the line of scrimmage and trying to stop the run.
“We took advantage of the defense that was in front of us,” he said. “They were stacking nine men on the line of scrimmage against us.”
Although the Dragons proved they could throw the ball on several occasions, Navas noted that they are a more run-oriented offense.
“Not a lot of teams are going to do that (on defense),” he noted.
As far as a starting line-up goes Navas declined to name any player who he felt was assured of a starting position come the start of the regular season.
“We pretty much have an idea of what our offensive line is going to be, but no one is guaranteed a position. he said. “Competition is only going to make us better.”
One thing appears to be permeating throughout the Jefferson locker room this preseason, the importance of team work.
According to Navas the Dragons are not a star-laden team full of standouts, but rather a more unified, workman-like group.
“As of right now we don’t have any standouts, and I don’t mean that in a bad way...(but) what we do have is a group of good, solid hard-nosed kids that are working to get better. That’s what these next two weeks are for...our standouts will show up in our first game.”

Moving on up
Bigger teams, yes. Reason for panic? No.
After building themselves into a Class AAA state fast-pitch powerhouse in just four seasons, the Madison County softball program will make the leap to AAAA this year. But competing against larger schools won’t make them forget what it takes to win according to their coach.
“We’ve competed for four years. We’ve won 20 games each season. We have a winning tradition and that goes along way,” fourth-year Raider softball coach Doug Kesler said. “These girls expect to win every time they go out there. Our goals are the same as they were last year.”
One could hardly blame them for having such expectations after steamrolling Class AAA competition with a 102-34 mark from 1998-2001, including a school-best 30-7, state-runner campaign last year.
But just as Madison County can’t be taken lightly in AAAA, the team also knows it can’t afford to rest on its past glories against their new competition. Kesler said his team knows life in AAAA will be different.
“Overall, it’s a lot stronger,” he said “It’s going to be a lot tougher to get out of the area and into the sections and then to the final eight. There’s a lot more competition out there.”
Madison County’s move to AAAA will see them join Winder-Barrow, Jackson County, Habersham Central, Stephens and Clarke Central in the East-Sub-Area of 8-AAAA.
Kesler feels confident that the team can hold their own in their portion of the area.
The other side is much more menacing, however, with outfits like 2001 AAA state champion Loganville, Heritage and Eastside, who both made state tournament appearances last year, along with Newton County, Rockdale County and Salem.
Madison County will enter the tough AAAA waters armed with five players who were all-state selections—Class AAA pitcher of the year Lindsey Barnette, Cadance Shubert (.345 batting average in 2001), Brooke Kesler (.343), Sarah Owen and Sarah Owen (.306).
They will, however, be without last year’s leading hitter Amanda Lewis (.375), who graduated, and Brandi Robertson (.337 batting average, 19 steals in 2001) and Lindsay Mason (.313 batting average in 2001) who are no longer with the team.
Kesler said he is as confident in this year’s group as he was in last season’s.
“From top to bottom, we’ll be just as strong as we were last year, it will just take a while to settle into some new positions,” the coach explained.
The the defensive lineup should stack up like this: Kesler will be back behind home plate at catcher, Taylor Sapp (.231 batting average in 2001) will play first, Michelle Archer and Jennifer Stone (.214) are still competing for the starting nod at second, Casey Allen (.270) will step in at short stop, Melanie Elrod (.169) will move from left field to third base, Barnette and Laura Baird will swith off in left when the other is pitching, Owen will play center and Shubert will be penciled in at right.
Madison County will also return their entire pitching staff which compiled a 0.89 ERA last season—Barnette, Sarah Tippins (13-2, 1.11 ERA), Danielle Johnson (6-2, 0.96 and Baird (0-0, 3.50 ERA).
The team has been practicing since late July to gear up for the Thursday opener against Social Circle in the Madison County Sports Leadoff Classic.
Kesler said the preseason signs have been positive.
“It’s been going good, it’s been very spirited, everybody’s had a good attitude and has bee working hard,” he said. “At this point I think everybody is ready to play.”

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