Prep Softball: Newnan High's goals go beyond 20/20 vision
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
(Editor’s Note: The following is the second in a series of stories profiling the 2012 high school softball season)
Twenty wins in a high school softball season is an achievement. To accomplish it three consecutive times is a streak.
When it comes to judging success in high school softball in Georgia, the latter is the only measurement that matters to some coaches.
Count Lady Cougars head coach Carrie Gilmore in that crowd.
“They have big goals. We definitely want to strive to get twenty wins and it’s a great accomplishment,” said Gilmore, whose team opens the schedule today with a scrimmage at Whitewater. “But really, our main goal every season is to get to Columbus. Consistency is the defining word with us this year.”
The cycle that is high school athletics affects Newnan just as any other softball program. The Lady Cougars will have to adjust to the loss of at least seven seniors last year, led by All-County players Emily McCullough, Dani Gravett and McDaniel.
Each led Newnan in key areas — McCullough with her .425 average and .667 slugging percentage; Gravett with her 2.60 ERA and 96 strikeouts on the mound; and McDaniel for her versatility as the team’s starting center fielder.
“No doubt, we’re going to miss them,” said Gilmore. “Someone like Maggie is everything you look for in a softball player.”
(To view or purchase photos from a recent preseason practice, visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports / Softball for the photo gallery.)
Not all of the talent from last year’s playoff run in Class AAAAA, which ended with a disappointing two-game sweep to Hillgrove in the Sweet 16, has been lost. The infield remains intact and among the Lady Cougars most impressive assets heading into the season.
It’s led at the corners by seniors Sydney Garmany and Abbey Garner, both of whom emerged as key contributors on last year’s lineup that went 21-14-1 and finished second in Region 2-AAAAA. At third base, Garmany batted .382, was among team leaders with 30 runs while 12 of 14 in stolen-base attempts. Garner was lauded for her work ethic at first base following a 2011 campaign where she batted .325, was near-perfect in the field and struck out only twice in 83 plate appearances.
“They’re not overly vocal out there. I’d say, they’re more leaders by example,” Gilmore said of Garmany and Garner. “You can tell they want to win. And they hate to lose.”
Middle infielders Lindsay Stewart at second base and Chaycie Goggins at shortstop also return as starters for junior seasons. Senior Savannah Thomley saw action behind home plate while spelling McCullough at times. Gilmore also expects sophomore Arden Jobe to get a share of those duties this fall while keeping her big bat in the lineup.
As a ninth grader, Jobe batted .372 with 11 doubles and 21 RBIs — second best among the Lady Cougars — while also playing a little bit at third base and in the outfield.
“We’ll definitely find a spot for Arden in the lineup, that’s for sure,” Gilmore said of Jobe.
Filling equally large vacancies left at pitcher and the outfield will fall to newcomers in the lineup, though some are no strangers. Sophomore Tori Loveless provided relief for Gravett last year and is among a trio of arms working at the position during Tuesday’s practice. By the time the state playoffs arrived, fellow sophomore Emily Allen had been moved up to varsity and was beginning to showcase her talent as well.
“Having two pitchers is a good thing,” Gilmore said. “I think having each other will help both of them this year.”
Meanwhile, junior Shania Colton, sophomore Lauren Ferguson and freshman Maysen Willard will be among a group of underclassmen looking to fill spots in the outfield. Thomley and Loveless could also see time there as well.
The non-region schedule remains a challenge, the result of a six-team Region 3-AAAAAA alignment that again has East Coweta and Newnan as huge favorites while joined by Douglas County, Tri-Cities, Westlake and Langston Hughes. None of the four challengers posted more than four victories in 2011.
The result — while promising — will mean that both county rivals will have to prepare for potential state playoff runs through alternative means. Newnan has scheduled back-to-back weekend tournaments in mid September hosted by Carrollton and Brookwood. After facing Whitewater today and Carrollton in next Tuesday’s season opener on the road, the Lady Cougars will begin play in the Georgia Dugout Club Tournament at the East Carroll softball complex.
The schedule also includes a home-and-home series with 2011 Class AAAA state champion Northgate.
“We try to get as many quality opponents as possible,” Gilmore said. “We typically play two tournaments around late September to get ready for tournament play.”