Prep Softball: No. 2 state-ranked East Coweta makes another run at history
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
What comes around, goes around. High school softball included. At least that’s how East Coweta may feel heading into the final weekend of the 2012 season.
In their previous seven trips, the Lady Indians have left Columbus empty handed.
Getting there, though, is always the first half of the battle.
“We have been blessed to have done it eight times in a row and it’s something to be very, very proud of. Because it’s not as easy as it sounds,” said East Coweta head coach Franklin DeLoach, who has been a part in all of them. “We’ve met our goals so far this year. We won the region championships and home field advantage for playoffs and we got through the state playoffs 4-0 so far. But once you get [to Columbus] it’s tough.”
Even the best social studies teacher — ECHS assistant coach Matt East included — understands that history has also seen its share of revolutions. And all it takes to change its course sometimes is a spark.
Which is why shortly after the last of two playoff series sweeps that catapulted the program back into the state quarterfinals, East posed six words to Lady Indians players. “Why not us? Why not now?”
“It was perfect,” said Kayla Turner, one of East Coweta’s eight seniors that have helped lead this year’s team to a 31-3-1 record and a No. 2 state-ranking. “I loved when he said that, cause it’s true. Everybody [in Columbus] is good. You wouldn’t be there if you weren’t.”
Despite a short season relative to other GHSA sports, it’s been the process of a lot of long days of practice on East Coweta’s home field, the last of which came on Wednesday.
“Everybody’s been getting behind that,” added fellow senior pitcher Megan Chocallo, the Lady Indians’ ace over the past three-plus seasons. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work.”
This year’s Lady Indians lineup may not be grossly overly confident as they are comfortable in each other’s abilities heading into the final weekend of the 2012 season. East Coweta has gone 25-0-1 since a 2-0 loss to Northgate in late August, heating up through the last two months of the season while winning this year’s Region 3-AAAAAA crown and sweeping two playoff opponents by a combined score of 39-5 over four consecutive victories.
“If you don’t have any confidence you’re not going to do well,” added Lady Indians senior outfielder Katie Bedrosian amidst the final home practice of her varsity career. “And I have every confidence in every single teammate that’s here.”
The lineup has been balanced with senior leadership, with Chocallo and infielder Casey Lambert earning their first starts four years ago as freshmen.
“I remember my first chewing out by a coach too,” Lambert joked.
The group, however, has grown into leaders all too quickly.
“We’re just pleased with the leadership and the guidance they’ve brought to us,” DeLoach said of a group of upperclassmen also including starting first baseman Sara Colwell and outfielders Jenny Matherne and Kyra Odum, who continued to stay with the team through Wednesday’s final practice in street clothes despite a season ending injury. “I feel like our chemistry is really, really good right now heading into Columbus.”
That mix of youth and experience has equally continued with underclassmen Kia Smith, Mekhia Freeman and Shemiah Sanchez adding speed and power at the top of the lineup. The trio, along with other underclassmen like Lauren Liebe, Katie Lynch and power-hitting freshman Maggie Morrow, give East Coweta as much a chance to continue its Elite 8 streak into the near future.
“We’re not just a nine or ten [player] lineup,” DeLoach said. “We run through, on average, 14 to 16 girls a game. We’ve had some times when we’ve had hiccups defensively and it took a toll on us or we’ve had some hiccups at the plate. But overall we feel good about the phases of the game that we have. We do have a little bit of speed. We do swing the bat pretty good throughout the lineup and our pitching keeps us in the game every time.”
Chocallo has been steady all year long on the mound for East Coweta in what has been an enjoyable senior year where she’s been able to avoid both exhaustion and injury while kept to pitch counts for much of the season.
“I think I haven’t been this solid since my freshman year,” she said. “I’ve been hurt every year up until this year. I think this year, senior year, everything has come together with this team.”
Chocallo’s growing confidence in her team’s defense could also be a sign of her steadiness this year.
“Just getting the ball where you know they can make a play,” she said. “
East Coweta’s climb to a potential first state title grows steeper starting with tonight’s tournament opener at the South Commons Softball Complex against third-ranked Lassiter (30-5-1), which is also coming off back-to-back series sweeps.
In all, East Coweta is joined in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals by four teams from Cobb and three more from Gwinnett County with all but traditional power Mill Creek carrying a state ranking from the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association into this year’s tournament.
“We’re kinda used to that. I call it the giants of Cobb and Gwinnett county,” DeLoach said. “They’re very, very talented in softball. The state championship hasn’t left one of those two counties in our classification.”
At least not for a decade or so. Fayette County won the Class AAAAA title in 2002 and East Coweta’s closest run came in 2008 when it reached the state finals against Mill Creek.
DeLoach, who has guided the program through each of the last eight visits to the state tournament in a 16-year career now including over 300 victories, understands how difficult it can be to be the last team standing as much as his players do. Success has come this year through a combination of focus and a share of fun while taking games one pitch at a time.
“Winning the very next pitch. That’s one of our sayings,” DeLoach said. “It takes a team to have extreme focus, extreme concentration [at state]. One of the things this year is they have really bought in on working to improve each and every day.”
Experience equally can pay dividends. Some of this year’s Lady Indians can remember the jitters of playing their first state tournament games and have since adapted to playing among intense settings either in high school or with travel ball clubs in national tournaments during the summer.
“It was a little intimidating when you’re younger,” Colwell said. “But now that we’re older now. We’ve also had more fun this year too and I think that’s helped a lot with us. We’re going to be excited as all get out [today] for the game and hopefully that’ll continue throughout.”
The seniors described a sibling-like bond among one another as teammates. The final home practice of the season was equal parts work and camaraderie to the soundtrack of country music blaring from the EC softball field sound system.
“I think the thing I’ll miss is the friendship we’ve all had,” Odum said. “I think it hit me on Senior Night. I felt like ‘This is it.’”
Others, like Matherne, don’t expect the finality of their varsity career to hit them until much later in the school year. By then, it hopes to come while staring at a state championship ring.
“It hasn’t even hit me that today is my last practice,” she said. “Usually it’s not until a month or so. I just want to go out there and enjoy this.”