When she was asked about the competition the Evans High softball team would face in Region 3-AAAA this season, Knights junior Kayla Cates' first thought was to discard Greenbrier.
The Wolfpack are no longer among Evans' competition for the region crown, but the Knights had Monday's meeting with their county rivals on their mind last week.
"We take it real seriously," Cates said. "A lot of people around town get into it."
After Monday, the Knights' focus will return to pursuing a second consecutive region title. Evans beat out Harlem at Diamond Lakes softball park last season for the program's fourth region title under coach Colette Cassedy, who is in her 21st year coaching Evans softball.
Cassedy said another region title would be nice, but that the Knights' ultimate goal is to make the Class AAAA state playoffs. Evans' 2008 season ended in the Elite Eight.
"Last year, they so bad wanted to get to the finals," said Cassedy, who won her 400th career game to start the season . "I think they got a little bit of that, and they're wanting to get there again."
The softball playoff format is different for the 2009 season. Initial rounds will be played in a best-of-three format similar to baseball.
Cassedy said the new format would give fans a chance to watch the teams without the travel of going to sectionals, assuming the Knights finish among the top two teams in the region.
Evans won 8-3 on Aug. 20 against Lakeside, a team Cassedy said was much improved. The Knights then beat Butler 15-0 to open region play 2-0.
Cassedy said she expects parity among the region's top four teams. Cross Creek, which beat the Knights during the 2008 regular season, is expected to be among their stiffest competition again.
"There's some teams out there, if we don't play well, we're going to get beat," Cassedy said. "And there are some if we do play well, we might still get beat."
Cassedy's challenge early in the season has been to complete the puzzle in the field.
With the departure of Laura Brown, who alternated with Jenny Shepherd pitching and playing third, Cassedy has tried to find consistency in her infield.
Sophomore Becca Olson has played third and freshman Lexi Dodgen is slotted at short. Cassedy said Shepherd, a Class AAAA All-State selection last season, has expressed interest in playing short when not pitching.
Shepherd has played all over the field at different times, and Cassedy said the senior viewed playing short as a challenge.
But Shepherd's primary responsibility will be on the mound, where she likely will be for all the Knights' important games. The Knights' other pitching option is sophomore Brooke Sarver, who has started some games early in the season.
"If something happened to Jenny -- if she's hurt, sick or whatever -- we have full confidence (Sarver) can do the job," Cassedy said. "It's just a matter of going with who you know in key situations."
Photo by Stephen Fastenau
Evans' Lexi Dodgen, a shortstop and pitcher, throws to first during infield practice. The Knights are the defending Region 3-AAAA champions.
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