Sports

October 15, 2013

Their second chance

State is new start for No. 2 seeds North Murray, Northwest Whitfield

Two local high school softball teams enter their state playoffs with the same seed but different feelings about how they earned them.

While North Murray’s Lady Mountaineers are thrilled to see their season simply continue, Northwest Whitfield’s Lady Bruins are upset their season goes on without celebrating another region championship.

Much of that has to do with expectations based on past success.

The Lady Mountaineers were seeded fifth entering the Region 5-3A tournament but finished second last week after getting hot in the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination event. The Lady Bruins were seeded second entering the Region 7-4A tournament and ultimately finished in the same position — but they also were within three outs of claiming the region title for the third straight year.

North Murray’s outcome equaled excitement. Northwest’s situation equaled disappointment.

No matter their region results, both teams have to come back to the middle and get ready for their best-of-three series in the first round of state, which start Wednesday with 5 p.m. doubleheaders. Third games, if necessary, would be played at the same time Thursday.

The Lady Bruins host LaGrange in the Class 4A playoffs, while the Lady Mountaineers host Banks County in the Class 3A playoffs.

North Murray

The Lady Mountaineers (15-18) have overachieved before.

In 2011, North Murray entered the Class 2A state playoffs as a No. 4 seed with a 16-12 record. In 2012, the team entered the Class 3A state playoffs with a 12-16 record as the third seed from Region 5.

The first two rounds of state are best-of-three series, with the remaining eight teams qualifying for a spot in the state tournament in Columbus.

Despite some early success for North Murray, which opened just four years ago, the trip to Columbus has remained elusive. Sophomore third baseman Megan Pittman said reaching the state tournament has been this team’s goal “from day one.”

A chance to finally make it there starts with Banks County, which lost in the first round of state last season. The Lady Leopards (16-8, according to ga.prepcountry.com) claimed the No. 3 seed from Region 7. The championship in that region was won by Buford, which is ranked second in the country by maxpreps.com.

“Only thing I know right now is (Banks County is) a scrappy bunch,” North Murray coach Steve Granger said.

That would be an apt description of the Lady Mountaineers, too.

Playing six games in five days, North Murray overcame a disappointing regular season and won three games against teams with better seeds before finally bowing out in a 12-3 loss to Ringgold in the region championship. North Murray would have had to beat the Lady Tigers — who rolled through the winners’ bracket — twice to claim the title.

The tournament ended this past Thursday for North Murray, which won four games and lost two, both to the Lady Tigers. Granger said he “absolutely” was happy with how the team played in the tournament.

Still, he and the Lady Mountaineers would no doubt have liked to be champions, too.

“I think in that last game, we were emotionally and physically drained,” Granger said. “It was a tough week playing six games. That’s tough for anyone.”

While the break between the loss to Ringgold and first game versus Banks is a longer one than the usual between games in the regular season, Granger said it is warranted after playing a flurry of games in a short time span.

“I think with the week we had before, we just needed a few days off,” he said. “I gave them the weekend off and then we started practicing Monday. I think the break will work out for us.”

Is there a chance it halts the momentum and string of good play for the team?

“As an athlete, we all worry if a break will do that,” senior pitcher Kara Deal said. “We’re going to practice hard and hopefully the break won’t be too much on us.”

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