For some local softball teams, the 2012 season has been a disappointment.
For two others, it has been a pleasant surprise from 2011. And for only one, it has been smooth sailing.
As all seven area teams enter the final week of the regular season, their respective region tournaments are looming and offer a chance for second life. All coaches will say they want to be playing the best ball at the end, and with only a handful of games remaining before it becomes win-or-go-home territory, now is the time to hit the necessary groove to keep playing well into October.
Dalton coach Jeff McKinney would prefer if his squad had a better record, but that isn’t unique to this season.
“You always want a better record,” he said.
The Lady Catamounts (8-13, 1-7 Sub-region 7B-4A) have had some disappointing moments this season, but McKinney sees things starting to turn around for his club. Dalton played powerhouse Northwest Whitfield close in a 2-0 loss and beat Ridgeland 8-0 a week later.
“We just want the opportunity and the girls have worked hard this year,” McKinney said. “The whole team is starting to hit the ball real well.”
Regardless of sub-region record, Dalton — along with Northwest and Southeast Whitfield — will be one of 11 teams in the region tournament, which begins Oct. 1 at Heritage Park. The double-elimination format will spit out four teams to advance to the Class 4A state playoffs, and McKinney hopes the recent upward trend continues through this week and beyond. Dalton made the Class 3A state tournament last year.
“Fortunately right now we’ve been playing decent,” he said. “I think with some success in the region tournament, it will make all that for naught. It all depends on what you’re doing at the end of the season.”
Top-ranked Northwest (21-2, 8-0) has cruised from the first pitch of the season, only losing in tournaments. But coach Jason Brooker does not want to think of the past wins but the games they still need to win.
“It really doesn’t matter who you beat in the regular season,” he said. “You have to win in the region tournament.
“Hopefully this week we can pick up the intensity a little bit.”
The Lady Raiders, who play three games this week, have a chance to finish the season above .500 in region play after only winning three games last year.
“This is probably the biggest week we’ve had all season,” Southeast coach Kelley Barton said. “We want to finish strong. I can’t remember the last time Southeast has finished over .500 in the region.”
For Christian Heritage, this week has added importance.
The Lions (5-13, 3-2) have the most games this week (five) of any local team and are not guaranteed one of Sub-region 6B’s four spots in the region tournament.
“We probably need to win two games this week to help solidify it,” Christian Heritage coach Mike Leonard said.
Leonard pegged Wednesday’s trip to Darlington as the key matchup.
“The Darlington game is big because we beat them the first time and if we win again it gives us the tiebreaker,” Leonard said.
Christian Heritage’s road to Class A’s private school state playoffs also is more confusing than other area teams. The Region 6 tournament begins Oct. 1 but Leonard did not know where it was being held. The winner of the region tournament, whether public or private, automatically earns one of the 16 spots in its half of the state playoffs.
After the eight region champions are decided, the remaining spots are determined on a power system based on wins and strength of schedule. A win equals five points, and the team earns bonus points equaling the amount of wins the opponent had. In a loss, a team gets the number of points that equals 33 percent of the opponent’s win total.
“We were right at 16 going into last week, but I don’t know where we’re at right now,” Leonard said.
So, aside from just needing to reach the region tournament, the Lions also are playing for power-rating positioning in case they don’t end up atop the region tournament.
“Every game you were to win in that region it goes to your power rating, too,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of ball to play this week. Considering what we have — only two girls that played travel ball and a lot of kids that don’t normally play a lot of games — I think it’s good for a lot of girls, especially girls who are going to come back. We’re getting them a lot of repetitions that will help for the future.”
One year after North Murray made a late run and reached the Class 2A state playoffs, the team is staring another much-needed charge to reach at least the same level.
The Lady Mountaineers (8-13, 4-7) have three games this week before the region tournament begins Oct. 1 in Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and could finish at .500 in region play if things turn around for Daphne Winkler’s bunch.
“Last year we started a little before now in making our run,” North Murray coach Daphne Winkler said, “but I’m expecting the same thing. Who knows what can happen? Our region is up in the air. As bad as we’ve done and with as much of a let down as it has been, we’re still fifth in the region.”
Coahulla Creek’s season has been filled with inconsistency, and the record shows it. The Lady Colts are 9-12 overall and 5-5 in region play, sitting right in the middle of the pack with four games in the final week.
“This is a big week for us with four games,” Coahulla Creek coach Rhett Parrott said. “We could go either way. We could end up with a pretty high seed or a low one.”
The region tournament will be an eight-team, double-elimination format with the top four advancing to the Class 3A state playoffs.
“It’s really been an inconsistent season for us,” Parrott said. “There’s been times when we’ve played really good softball and had complete games and other times when we couldn’t put together complete games, whether it’s been something minor at the beginning or end or times when we’ve been completely out of it.”
Winkler said the Lady Mountaineers entered the season as one of the favorites, and the expectations were not met. However, storming through the last week and following up by making the final four would erase the disappointment.
“That’s what I’ve told the girls,” she said. “This can be as bad a year as it has been, but if we come out in the region tournament ready to go then no one will remember.”
One of the biggest area surprises has been Murray County, which did not win a game in 2011 but has double-digit wins overall and is one win shy of being .500 in region play.
“There’s no way we can be first and there’s no way we can be last,” coach Sandra Johnston said of the Lady Indians (10-11, 2-3).
Murray County’s region tournament begins Saturday, two days before other area schools, and takes place in Rome’s Alto Park. Johnston said the defense has been superb while the offense could rise up.
“Defensively, we’re playing great defense. If our bats come alive, we’ll be fine,” she said, noting a 1-0 loss Thursday to Calhoun was a confidence builder.
“(Calhoun) hasn’t lost yet. Well, they’ve lost, but not in the region.”
Murray County’s surprising season has all the makings for more surprises and the potential to be a dangerous foe and potential Class 2A playoff team. Similar to Region 5-3A, the Lady Indians will be one of eight teams competing in a double-elimination format with the final four earning playoff berths.
“Nobody thinks we’re going to do anything because of last year,” Johnston said. “Anything we do is a plus.”
Softball regular season wraps up this week
For some local softball teams, the 2012 season has been a disappointment.
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