published Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Youthful Calhoun ready for state softball playoffs

GHSA SOFTBALL 1ST-ROUND PLAYOFFS

(best-of-three series, doubleheader starts)

Class AAAA

• Ridgeland (16-13) at Columbus (21-7), 4:30

• Carrollton (16-9) at Heritage (26-7), 5

• LaGrange (20-8) at Northwest Whitfield (28-6), 5

Class AAA

• Fannin County (16-14) at Ringgold (26-5), 4

• Banks County (16-8) at North Murray (15-18), 5

• Sonoraville (13-19) at Buford (29-1), 5

Class AA

• Temple (6-13) at Calhoun (25-6), 5

• Bowden (17-12) at Dade County (20-12), 5

• Chattooga (12-14) at Bremen (16-11), 5

CALHOUN, Ga. -- Most high school softball coaches with lineups full of freshmen and sophomores would be a bit nervous at playoff time. At Calhoun High, though, veteran coach Diane Smith has 13 such players on her region championship team and isn't a bit concerned.

The Lady Yellow Jackets (25-6) open postseason play today against Temple in a doubleheader start to the best-of-three Class AA opening-round series, and though youth abounds for Smith's team, it's a different kind of youth.

"I've had young players before, but these girls are softball players," Smith said. "They play it all year, and it's what they want to do in college. They've all played at high levels in pressure situations, so I'm not worried about them."

The first three batters in Smith's lineup -- Ryan Brzozoski, Ashlyn Barnes and Jana Johns -- are all first-year players who have done more than just fill positions. The speedy Brzozoski leads the team with a .520 average and 39 runs scored and the area with 30 stolen bases, while Barnes is hitting .365 with 18 steals and Johns enters the postseason batting . 453 with 31 RBIs and 15 steals.

"When we get those girls on, we're hard to beat," Smith said. "They just don't play like freshmen."

Of course, it helps to have a Taylor Kelly in the cleanup spot. The junior Mississippi State University recruit is hitting a robust .517 and leads the area with seven homers and 39 RBIs. She, like her coach, says the top of the order has made the difference in the team this year.

"They are a huge part of our success," Kelly said. "Each and every one of them are studs, and because they play at the best level of travel ball, I believe they will play well in the pressure of the playoffs. They make my job a lot easier."

The other difference with the Lady Jackets this year is the health of pitcher Alyssa Shawgo and the emergence of sophomore Kinsey Liscio to share the workload in the circle. Shawgo is 9-3 with a 2.22 earned run average after missing the 2012 playoffs because of injury, while Liscio has won 12 games this season with an ERA of 1.32.

"You've got to have pitching to win this time of year, and we're very fortunate to have two really good ones," Smith said. "I feel great about our chances. We're playing as well as we have all year, and the girls are excited about the playoffs."

Calhoun is one of nine area teams beginning postseason play today in three classifications, and each will play a deciding game three Thursday if needed. The Class A playoffs, which consist of one round before the public and private school fields are pared to eight, begin next Wednesday.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.

about Lindsey Young...

Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...

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