High School Softball
Lady Indians hoping to start new state playoff streak
by Doug Gorman
(Editor's Note: The following is the second of a series of stories previewing the 2014 softball season in Coweta County. Coming Saturday: Northgate)
East Coweta's softball program hopes to start a new streak in 2014.
A year ago, a long-standing tradition ended for the Lady Indians when they failed to make it to the Class AAAAAA Elite 8 in Columbus for the first time in nine years. Their hopes ended last year after losing in the Sweet 16 to state runner up Harrison, and finishing with a 26-10 record.
If the Lady Indians are going to begin a new streak, it will have to come from a smaller nucleus of veterans and newcomers than usual.
Head coach Franklin DeLoach received a sneak preview during Thursday's scrimmage against Starr's Mill.
We just want to see what some this girls can do in game situations,' he said, prior to the game.
East Coweta will also have replace Newnan Times Herald All-County honorees in catcher Reba Jones and second baseman Kia Smith, while also now forced to find a successor for a third standout following a torn ACL this summer.
Jones batted .298 last year with 21 RBIs and seven doubles.
Smith, meanwhile, comprised half of a top-duo of middle infielders for the Lady Indians while posting a .477 average with 31 stolen bases.
East Coweta lost a third starter late t h i s summe r when centerfielder Mekhia Freeman suffered a torn ACL.
The departures may force the Lady Indians to rely heavily on star shortstop Shemiah Sanchez and versatile infielder Lauren Liebe. Both seniors earned All-County honors last year with solid offensive numbers and stellar defense.
Sanchez, who has committed to LSU, played with Puerto Rico's national teams for the second consecutive summer. As a high school junior, she hit .350 with 27 RBIs for the Lady Indians.
Liebe, who batted .340 with 24 RBIs while playing four positions, missed the scrimmage while nursing injuries.
'She can play just about anywhere in the inf ield and she showed it last season,' DeLoach said of Liebe. Thursday's scrimmage, however, was one that was already tabbed as one that the East Coweta coach had pegged for his underclassmen, many of whom will be seeing their first varsity action in the GHSA.
It's a situation that junior pitcher Morgan Goree went through last year on the mound. This fall, she'll return as a proven veteran and DeLoach is confident that 'she will eat up a lot of innings again for us this year.'
'Last year's experience is priceless for Morgan,' DeLoach said. 'We were really nervous about losing (pitcher Megan) Chocallo last year, but I thought Morgan stepped in and did a great
job.' Goree, though, has support and won't have to throw every inning with Rachel Vaughn and Jesse Barber expected to help with pitching duties too.
Between the injury to Freeman and the transfer of DH Maggie Morrow to McIntosh, numbers have taken a bigger hit than usual.
Among 19 varsity and junior varsity players are five eighth graders.
'In the past, I have carried 19 or 20 players on the varsity,' DeLoach said. 'This is going to be different. We won't be able to do that.'
Last year's starting outfielder Hailey Baswell and Katie Lynch will share some of the catching duties while rotating behind the plate and outfield positions.
Baswell started behind the plate in Thursday's scrimmage while equally jumpstarting the season with a homer against Starr's Mill. .
Otherwise, most of the remaining starting jobs are in the audition stage heading into Monday's season opener at Northside-Columbus. 'The only thing we know that is solid is Shemiah Sanchez is going to play shortstop, Katie and Hailey catching and playing in the outfield. We hope to get Liebe back soon, but other than that everything is up for grabs,' DeLoach said. 'There is not a lot of experience. We have only had three practices and here we are having our first scrimmage,' he said. 'Things are going to fall into place.'
East Coweta faces some new opponents this year thanks to moving into Region 3-AAAAAA that includes a South Cobb program it faced in the Class AAAAAA playoffs two years ago. Campbell and Pebblebrook are also new to the league.
The Lady Indians' biggest Region 3-AAAAAA challenge could again comes from its closest rival Newnan, which made it to the Elite 8. The rivals play Sept. 16 at Newnan in their only meeting of the regular season.
Outside the region, East Coweta is also loading up its schedule with some tough opponents, including two defending state champs.
The Lady Indians face Class AAAAA champion Ola, which beat Northgate in the title round last year, next Saturday and also take on defending Class A champ Eagle's Landing Christian in the Shiloh Tournament on Sept. 19.
'We are going to face some really good teams throughout the season,' DeLoach said. 'Hopefully, that is going to help make us better