High School Softball
Northgate heads back to familiar territory
by Doug Gorman
Northgate senior pitcher McKenzie Peace and senior catcher Brittany Futral admit there might be some mental telepathy involved between the two whenever they communicate between one another for the Lady Vikings’ softball team.
Whatever the formula, the battery mates have helped propel the Lady Vikings (25-7-1) back to the Class AAAAA Elite 8 starting Thursday in Columbus against Creekview (25-9).
The first pitch in the double-elimination event is set for 4:15 at South Commons Park.
With a win, the Lady Vikings play the winner of the Effingham-Loganville game at 7:15 on Thursday. A loss would send the Lady Vikings to the loser’s bracket game Friday at 11 a.m.
Northgate head coach Lisa Skelton’s team have made a tradition of playing in the state’s most prestigious high school softball tournament, advancing to the Elite 8 nine of 11 years, including winning it all in 2007 and 2011.
This year’s senior class also includes shortstop Casey Kent, first-baseman Emily Heath and outfielders Brenna Skalski and MacKenzie McCloud — all major contributors during back-to-back three-game series victories over Greenbrier and Harris County.
As thrilling as the journey has been, the three-day tournament is the culmination of all the hard work the team has put in since the summer.
“We wait for this all year,” said Peace, who will officially sign her letter-of-intent to play at LaSalle today. “Getting to the Elite 8, that’s our main goal every year. So now we are ready to go out there have fun and play our game.”
It starts with pitching and catching, which has a consistent force all season. Peace has made every windup during the postseason, including 137 pitches in Game 3 against Harris County.
Peace and Futral have been paired together for four years, starting with the junior varsity and are hoping to close out their high school careers on a high note.
“We know what they other is doing even without talking, Futral said. “It just feels good to be going again to Columbus.”
They said they share some responsibility to keep the team motivated.
“It’s not just because we are seniors, but we cause we are also the pitcher and catcher,” Skelton said every year her teams gets to the Elite 8 is special.
“It’s the atmosphere,” she said. “The fact that you have teams that have worked hard all season all coming to one place, it is electric.”
Northgate spent the bulk of the season ranked No. 1 in the Class AAAAA coaches’ poll, but faced a couple of interesting roadblocks once in got to the postseason, including losing to Ola in the finals of the Area 4-AAAAA Tournament.
Both the Lady Vikings’ first and second round contests were decided in the third-and- final game as they eventually beat Greenbrier and then Harris County after splitting the first two games in each series.
The Lady Vikings got past Harris County 10-6 in the third game thanks to a nine-strikeout performance from Peace to keep its tradition of playing in the Elite 8 alive.
Futral was one several players who contributed to the Vikings 20-hit parade. She also had an RBI.
The Lady Vikings enter the double-elimination Elite 8 tournament after getting offensive support from just about all nine spots in the lineup, even taking advantage of a home run from Houk in the win over Harris County.
Kent reached four times with an RBI in the deciding game against Harris County.
Skalski and Carly Alderman, at the top of the batting order, each had three hits and an RBI to help the Lady Vikings make their reservations back to the Elite 8.
McCloud also had two hits with an RBI. Ebonee Echols also reached on two base hits in the victory.
Skelton said she believes those tight contest will help the Lady Vikings this week.
“For one thing, we know what it means to have our backs to the wall,” Skelton said. “Resilient is a good way to describe what has happened and what we need to accomplish, but it can also work against us. For one thing, the teams that we play can think we had to work hard to get here, and we are tired. On our end, we can think, whatever we have against us, we can to it.”
Team unity might be one of the biggest reasons the team still has a chance to bring home the school’s third title.
“We are a team, so we are going to stand as one,” Futral said.
Creekview also had to put in a little extra effort in its first-round series before defeating Woodland-Cartersville in three games.
Last week, Creekville swept Apalachee.
There is some Elite 8 history between Creekview and Northgate.
In 2010, the Lady Grizzlies sent Northgate home from Columbus.
“They are very strong, kind of like us,” Skelton said. “They have good pitching, timely hitting. I think at this point, nobody is taking anybody for granted.”