Lady Vikings primed for return trip to Elite 8
by Doug Gorman
When veteran Northgate softball coach Lisa Skelton pencils in her lineup this season, she won't be able to write Andie Martin into the cleanup spot.
Martin, who signed a Division I scholarship to Western Kentucky, caught and played first base for the Lady Vikings, en route to putting up some eye-popping numbers at the plate, including a .576 batting average, a .700 slugging percentage with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs en route to earning Newnan Times Herald Player of the Year honors.
In addition to her potent bat, Martin also showed her ability to play first and catcher.
'Replacing Andie's stick is really hard,' Skelton said. 'I feel like I have good fielders and catchers, but replacing her at the plate won't be easy.
She was one of three Viking seniors to make the All-County team, including catcher Katie Burns and pitcher Carleigh Myatt.
Still, Skelton is not about to push the panic button.
'Our seniors did a really good job leading us last year, but we have some very good girls coming back,' Skelton said. 'Our goal is always to make back to Columbus and the Elite 8, we did that last year, and that is our goal for this season.'
The Lady Vikings return to the diamond after finishing with a 29-10 record and a No. 2-ranking in the final Class AAAAA poll behind state champion and region rival Union Grove.
Two years ago, the Lady Vikings won the school's second state softball title, capturing the Class AAAA crown with a win over rival Whitewater.
Nothing will satisfy this group of seniors but to go out on top with another state crown.
With three Division I college prospects, hopes are high to get there.
'I already have one championship ring,' said outfielder and All-County performer,' Brenna Skalski. 'I want one for the other hand this year.'
Skalski hasn't formally made her college decision, but she is weighing several schools in the Big East Conference including Georgetown and St. John's.
'We are always competitive,' Skalski said. 'We are just looking to make another run.'
Outfielder Ebonee Echols also earned All-County honors last year, and has verbally committed to Michigan State having equally made an impression on scouts as a member of an Atlanta Vipers club-level team that won a national championship in 2012.
Pitcher McKenzie Peace steps into the circle this year for last seson's starting Lady Viking pitcher Carleigh Myatt. Peace has committed to play at La Salle University in Philadelphia when her high school career is over.
Even though this edition of the Lady Vikings softball team is a mix of veterans and newcomers, optimism remains high.
'We have a really strong team' Peace said.'We have a lot of younger players coming back, but we are really close-knit, and I think we can go far.'
Two seniors are vying to take Martin's spot at first, including Emily Heath and MacKenzie McCloud.
Heath and McCloud made the Lady Viking varsity last year, but should see more playing time.
Lauren DeLoach and Jordan Hamilton enter their junior seasons looking to earn a starting spot at second base.
At least two players have the potential to garner time at shortstop, including Casey Kent who has committed to Lander. Echols could also come in from her outfield position to play short.
Jenna Pealor could be the link Skelton is looking for to replace Martin's offensive firepower. The third baseman earned all-county honors as a sophomore last season after hitting .465 with six home runs.
She could also spend time catching, something she does with her travel ball team.
'She is the one who could replace Andie with her bat and strong arm,' Skelton said. 'She is already being recruited by several Division I programs.'
Brittany Futral is back for her senior year and will share catching duties with Pealor.
Last year she played behind Martin and Katie Burns, who also earned all-county honors.
'She is very steady,' Skelton said. 'She is our team captain, so she is a leader. She will get the first look because she is my senior.'
Set to possibly join Echols and Skalski in the outfield are seniors Rachel Cook and Kate Davenport.
Jessica Cochran and Jessica Houk are also candidates to play in the outfield.
Both played on the junior varsity as freshman last season.
Cochran and Houk have also played in the infield as members of the junior varsity.
Caroline Cook, Brittney Trammel, Hadlee Lewis and Haley Flood are also candidates to get playing time from the circle.
'Peace is our No. 1 pitcher,' Skelton said. 'These other girls just don't have a lot of experience right now. They are just going to have get experience by going out there.' Northgate again faces a challenging Region 4-AAAAA schedule.
Last season, Nothgate was among four teams from the region to finish in the Class AAAAA final top-10 coaches poll including Union Grove, Whitewater and Ola.
'This region is always going to be good,' Skelton said. 'The team I really think to watch out for is Ola because they have so many girls returning.'
Northgate warms up for the upcoming season with a scrimmage at home tonight against Landmark and then opens the season with two different tournaments in Carrollton, including the Georgia Dugout Club event beginning Wednesday and the leadoff classic a week from Saturday.