High School Softball
Lady Vikings push forward after state-runner up finish
by Doug Gorman
Lisa Skelton doesn’t want to spend too much time dwelling on Northgate’s 2013 softball season — even if an impressive ride ended just one victory away from a state title.
By most standards, the Lady Vikings had a terrific year, advancing all the way to the Class AAAAA championship round before falling to Region 4-AAAAA rival Ola on a beautiful October Saturday in Columbus.
Northgate appeared destined to win its second state title in three years, before fate and a very good Lady Mustangs squad came out the of the losers’ bracket to take the championship trophy away with two crushing victories.
They included a 9-6 decision in the finale, which was decided by the International tiebreaker in nine innings.
“It was disappointing for us,” she said of a 28-9 season. “We really felt like could have won it all again last year, but we lost to a very good Ola team, and we had played them enough to know they were going to be tough.”
Northgate and Ola met six times last year, with the Lady Mustangs winning the last four, including the two most important games of the year on that final Saturday. Despite losing a pair of All-County players in addition to Newnan Times-Herald Pitcher of the Year McKenzie Peace, who signed with La Salle, the Lady Vikings’ long- time head coach is also experiencing a dip in numbers.
The season opens Wednesday at home against Alexander.
“Our expectations are always high,” Skelton said. “This year we are going to have to achieve our goals a little bit differently. We don’t have the numbers that we normally do, because it is an big time commitment and we don’t have as many kids out this year. We will get there, but we are going to have to do it with fewer kids.”
The Lady Vikings will have to replace star outfielders Brenna Skalski, who hit .515 and Emily Heath, who hit .432. Starting shortstop Casey Kent, catcher Brittany Futral and outfielders Mack- enzie McCloud, Rachel Cook and Kat Davenport also graduated after making key contributions last year.
The Lady Vikings enter a revamped 13-team Region 4-AAAAA that has some new faces to go along with familiar ones in Ola, Union Grove, Starr’s Mill and McIn- tosh. Whitewater, however, has dropped to Class AAAA in the most recent GHSA reclassification period.
Four-year starter Ebonee Echols is one of the outfielders and team leaders returning for the Lady Vikings.
The three-sport athlete, who also plays basketball and runs track, verbally committed to Michigan State as a sophomore. During the 2013 season, she hit .438 with 19 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
“There is not a lot of pressure on her,” Skelton said. “She committed in 10th grade, and she just wants to play softball.”
Second baseman Carly Alderman is also back for her senior year after earning All- County honors while batting .352 with 11 stolen bases.
One of the bigger challenges will be replacing Peace, who monopolized innings pitched last year while compiling a 29-9 record with a 1.91 ERA and 202 strikeouts. She follows a growing list of Lady Viking pitchers that have moved on to college programs.
The pitching duties are now in the hands of sophomores Katlin Bailey and Hadley Lewis.
“We are young,” Skelton said. “We are still looking to put some of the pieces in place. Last year, it was hands down McKenzie Peace’s team. She threw a lot of innings. This year, it is going to be who is pitching the best, and how do we feel is the best way to use them.”
Returning to the lineup is senior All-County performer Jenna Pealor, who divided her time between third and catcher, is back after hitting .435 with 34 RBIs and six home runs and earning Newnan Times Herald All- County honors.
Alisa Allen also has experience behind the plate. Lewis is also capable of catching when not pitching for the Lady Vikings. Kyra Long also has experience behind the plate.
“We are really deep at catcher,” Skelton said. “That is going to be really helpful for us.”
Infielder Jessica Cochran brings depth back to the lineup.
Several other spots will have to be decided among younger players.
In addition to key games against tough opponents in Region 4-AAAAA, Northgate again faces a challenging schedule out of the region including its annual participation in the annual Georgia Dugout Club Tournament to start the season next week.
Northgate opens the tournament at home against Alexander and Stockbridge next Thursday, before going to Carrollton to resume the event Friday and Saturday.
In Carrollton, the team will play Eagle’s Landing, Bremen and Chapel Hill in addition to the host Lady Trojans.
This year’s schedule also includes a trip late in the season to the Elite Gold Tournament.
Northgate also will face county rivals East Coweta and Newnan in non-region home and home series.