Prep Softball: Northgate begins 2012 quest for another state title
By DOUG GORMAN
The Northgate Lady Vikings’ softball team might have a little work to do if it hopes to top the 2011 season.
After all, winning a state title is every team’s ultimate goal, and when the Lady Vikings pieced together victories over Union Grove, Ola and finally Whitewater at the Class AAAA tournament in Columbus last October, the program had earned its second championship in school history.
Clifton with her 18-2 record was named The Newnan Times Herald Pitcher of the Year, while Smith batted .419 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs to garner Player of the Year honors.
Northgate head coach Lisa Skelton isn’t about to push the panic button despite the loss of Clifton and Smith.
“Our main thing is to be competitive,” she said. “If, we get back to the Elite Eight, that’s where we want to be. It’s not about what we did last year, it’s about what we are going to do this year.”
Despite replacing Clifton, the Lady Vikings have depth in their pitching rotation.
Junior Carleigh Myatt is slated to be the Lady Vikings’ starter this season after garnering valuable experience pitching behind Clifton. One of her biggest moments of last season came in the Class AAAA state tournament opener, as she entered in relief during a four-run deficit against Union Grove in a game where Northgate eventually rallied for an 8-5 win in eight innings that kept the team from dropping into the losers’ bracket.
Junior McKenzie Peace and freshman Alysen Febrey will also give the Lady Vikings additional pitching help.
“Peace didn’t play [varsity last year], but was down there in Columbus, and she knows what a big deal this is,” Skelton said.
Febrey will be the Lady Vikings’ first left-handed pitcher since 2005.
Senior Andi Martin is the team’s top returning power hitter and Skelton has the luxury of playing her at either first base or catcher. Martin is also garnering Division I looks with Western Kentucky leading the way. Martin is expected to catch in college. Last year Martin was named to the first team All-County squad with a .432 average and 42 RBIs.
She will divide her time behind the plate with Katie Burns, who brings senior leadership to the team and can also move over to third base when Martin catches.
Senior Katie Sachs returns to the middle infield as the Lady Vikings starting second baseman, while junior Casey Kent fills Smith’s vacancy at shortstop.
Senior Stephanie Brown has a chance to step in and start at first or third base after serving as a backup the past few seasons.
Northgate also brings back depth in the outfield. Junior Brenna Skalski and senior Hannah Edge are expected to be penciled into the lineup. Skalski also earned first team All-County honors with a .318 average and 21 RBIs.
Sophomore Ebony Echols is expected to see time at center field, but she can also play shortstop. Junior Rachel Cook and McKenzie McCloud are also outfielders at Northgate and expected to see playing time as the Lady Vikings defend their title.
Northgate has made it to the Elite 8 every year but one in Skelton’s long tenure as head coach. The program has not only produced talent at every level of college including the NAIA where Lady Viking alum Jackie Castenada helped lead Shorter College to a national championship while also garnering conference MVP and All-America honors.
“The girls know it is a tradition,” Skelton said. “That’s why my tryout numbers are usually around 50. They know all about the tradition, and they want to play.”
This year, the Georgia High School Association has moved to six classifications and placed the Lady Vikings in the 11-team Region 4-AAAAA.
Northgate’s new league features some traditional softball powers such as Whitewater, Union Grove and Starr’s Mill, as well as some teams that have struggled just to find enough players to field a team.
“We are playing everybody just once in our region,” Skelton said. “I don’t have the advantage of playing home and home, but we are picking up some tournaments to get us better.”
Northgate opens the season next Wednesday in the Georgia Dugout Club at East Coweta. Northgate faces the Lady Indians on the first day of the tournament. Houston County and Harlem are also among the teams scheduled to play the Lady Vikings in the tournament.
Late in September, Northgate takes on plays in the Brookwood Tournament.