High School Softball
Lady Vikings use summer to help build team unity
by Doug Gorman
Veteran Northgate softball coach Lisa Skelton stops short of calling the upcoming 2014 season a rebuilding year — the Lady Vikings have too much veteran talent to put that kind of label on the team.
But she knows it will take a blend of both returning starters and less experienced players if the Lady Vikings are going to make their annual run at getting back to Columbus and the Class AAAAA Elite 8 for the 10th time in the last 12 years.
Northgate just missed out on its second state championship over a three-year span in 2014, falling to Region 4-AAAAA rival Ola twice in the championship round to finish as Class AAAAA runner up.
Northgate is tuning up for another possible run this season by participating in a one-month, Tuesday morning softball league through June that includes East Coweta and Newnan as well as Starr’s Mill and LaGrange.
The league gives a chance for the Lady Vikings to build some team unity and get used to play together before the games start counting for real in August.
“It’s very relaxed,” Skelton said. “We roll kids in and out. It also gives the umpires a chance to get in a little work at the high school level because some times summer ball and recreation and travel ball can be very different.”
The games are especially important since the team is replacing seven seniors, including pitcher McKenzie Peace, who signed with La Salle. It continues a long list of hurlers that moved on to the college ranks including Ashley Anderson (Lipscomb), Forrest Skelton (Rhodes) and Ashley Clifton (Georgia Tech).
Among the candidates expected to get time in the pitching circle this summer are Kaitlyn Bailey, Hadlee Lewis and Brittany Trammell. All three are only sophomores, but have been playing the game for several years at the recreation and travel level.
“We are very young there, but they have been working hard,” Skelton said.
It means the veterans are going to be key to the team’s success.
Senior outfielder Ebonee Echols has committed to Michigan State and and has started every year for the Vikings.
Senior Jenna Pealor is expected to move behind the plate for the Lady Vikings after playing third base last season. She has committed to Lipscomb University in Nashville.
Carly Alderman, Lauren DeLoach, and Kyra Long and Jordan Hamilton are among the rising seniors who bring back experience.
This year, Northgate may have to win with some solid fielding.
“I am going to follow the (Florida head coach) Tim Walton approach and rely on defense, defense, defense,” Skelton said.
In this week’s action, Northgate knocked off Starr’s Mill 3-1, but the score isn’t something Skelton is worried about as the team gets ready to build on last year’s 25-5-1 record.
“We keep the score in our head, but we are really just trying to work on situational things,” Skelton said
In addition to getting together once a week for games during the month of June, most of Northgate’s players are busy with respective travel teams.
“Our girls are playing softball all the time,” Skelton said “That’s why I don’t push them too much this summer. They still have to be kids and need some relaxation.”
Northgate is also dealing with some bad news this summer too. Rising junior third baseman Raegan Kinsch is undergoing medical tests and is unable to participate in workouts.
“We are just asking for lots of prayers,” Skelton said. “It puts everything in perspective. We are all rallying around her. She is still very much a part of this team.”