Garrett Black seems peeved as he looks on while his Greenbrier softball team practices.
Tiffany Blackburn runs laps with the Greenbrier softball team during practice.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We can't make mistakes like that," the coach hollers loudly after a player doesn't run after a fly ball. "We don't make dumb mistakes."
While Black might find a few flaws in his team, the Wolfpack and the other teams in Columbia County will be looking for big things this season.
As the 2004 school year begins, the county's four teams hope to add to last year's accomplishments.
Last season, each school made the playoffs, with Greenbrier and Evans winning region titles. Lakeside finished behind only Greenbrier in Region 3-AAAA and Harlem finished third in its region. The Wolfpack and Panthers finished in the top eight in the state.
This season, it's a whole new ball game.
Evans drops from AAAAA to the new Region 2-AAAA, joining Lakeside and Greenbrier in a subregion with Jones County.
"This region is going to be an absolute dogfight," said Lakeside coach Jay Matthews. "Any of the four teams in the subregion could win it. The fourth-place team will give the other subregion's best team all they can handle in the region tournament."
Harlem moves into the new Region 3-AAA, a region with 13 schools. Two of the teams, Westside and Washington County, in the Bulldogs' region last season are gone. However, 2003 Region 3-AAA champ Jefferson County and Harlem are joined by Richmond Hill, South Effingham and Cross Creek, all 2003 playoff teams.
Catcher Amber Klein will lead Harlem as the Bulldogs fight for one of the four playoffs spots.
Klein, a 2003 Columbia County News-Times All-County honorable mention, will be aided by the transfer of Lauren Seaborn from Lakeside.
Despite the loss of Seaborn and four seniors, Lakeside returns a strong core group of five players that Matthews said he would put up against "any five around." The Panthers started four freshman last year and it paid off with the school making its first Elite Eight since 1998.
The pitching staff is led by Jori McMurtrey, Andria Batchelor and KayLee Hutchins, making it the youngest and most complete staff in the county. Hillary Hall and Sam Wannamaker bolster the hitting corps, and the Panthers will again have one of the youngest squads in the county.
"Lakeside has the potential to beat us every time we play," Black said. "(McMurtrey) is one of the best pitchers I've seen in a while."
Like Lakeside, Evans graduated many key players including three, Marquita Grimes, Sheena Blackwell and Ashley Brodhecker, who signed softball scholarships last year.
The Knights will, however, be led by eight players who are either juniors or seniors. Bekah Gibbs and Brittani Turner will be a few of the team's leaders.
"We lost a lot of key seniors, so I think there will be a learning curve," said Knights' coach Colette Cassedy. "It will be tough facing off against Lakeside and Greenbrier."
The Wolfpack figure to have a team that can contend for a state title this fall after losing only two seniors, All-State catcher Ashlee LaFontaine and Natalie Pippen, off a team that finished in the top five in the state. Black's team has won all eight region titles since the school opened.
Greenbrier softball coach Garrett Black talks to his team after Fridays
Photo by Jim Blaylock
This season, the Wolfpack will be led by Kristan Glover, possibly the best pitcher in the state. Glover has more than 50 wins over the past two seasons. Glover is joined by Brittany Leverett, Tiffany Blackburn, Courtney McCladdie, Kristi Nichols and Amanda Glover as players with All-County honors last season.
"We have a lot of talent and have a lot of potential," Black said. "We are still going to take it one game at a time."
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