TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Heritage: Steve Chattin's Generals, who graduated only one starter from last year's region champ and state runner-up, have a deep and experienced roster that is taking dead aim on a state title in Class AAAA.
2. Calhoun: The 2013 Class AA champions have a new class to conquer and a lineup that has speed, power and experience.
3. Gordon Lee: The Lady Trojans lost four starters to graduation from their final Class A championship team but return dominant pitching and ample new talent to contend in Class AA.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Lauren Lawson, Heritage: She's one of the top two-way players in the state after winning 30 games with a 1.08 ERA to go with a .440 batting average, 11 doubles, 43 RBIs and 30 runs scored last season.
2. Taylor Kelly, Calhoun: The Class AA state player of the year last year is headed to Mississippi State after batting .548 with 11 homers, 55 RBIs and 46 runs scored.
3. Emily Armour, Gordon Lee: The junior was the Class A pitcher of the year after going 29-4 with a 0.77 ERA and striking out 300 batters in 191 innings. She also batted .290 with 21 RBIs.
Reclassification in Georgia affects all high school sports, but the latest round arguably will have more of an impact on softball than any other.
Three 2013 state champions have moved up a classification, and two of those are among another powerhouse group from the northwest Georgia area that has claimed six championships in the past two years. For Gordon Lee and Calhoun, though, the challenges of moving up could be quite different.
"We're excited about it," said Gordon Lee coach Dana Mull, whose program terrorized Class A in collecting four titles in a row. "I feel our new region (7-AA) is kind of similar competition-wise to what we were in. As far as the state level is concerned, it's not something we've talked about too much, but we feel we'll be successful."
The Lady Trojans must replace five starters, however, a daunting task in any year.
"It's hard to lose five players, because it will likely take a little longer for us to get going," Mull said of a group that included three-time all-star Jordyn Hamill, who is now at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "These other girls who have been waiting have a lot of experience, and they've seen what it takes to get the job done. They have to learn how to play with each other, and once we figure that out, I believe we'll be OK."
Mull still has a lot to work with, starting with junior pitcher Emily Armour, who was too much for Class A competition in sporting a 0.77 earning run average and 300 strikeouts, and senior outfielder Tiffany Holland, who led the area with a .566 average in 2013.
While Gordon Lee may take some time to get up to speed in its new class, there should be little trouble for Calhoun in adjusting to Class AAA. Diane Smith's Lady Yellow Jackets return nearly everyone and have added a pair of transfers who will provide even more depth.
"I'm excited about it and I feel this region (6-AAA) will be more competitive than where we played last year," Smith said. "We're looking forward to the challenge and playing new people. I know Ringgold always has a good team, and I'm sure there will be people giving us a run for our money."
Calhoun has a lethal lineup with speed and power. Senior shortstop Taylor Kelly provides a lot of the power after hitting 11 homers to go with a .548 average and 55 RBIs, while Ryan Brzozoski, just a sophomore, ignites the lineup after hitting .531 with 51 runs scored and 38 stolen bases. And the Lady Yellow Jackets return Class AA state pitcher of the year Kinsey Liscio, who as a sophomore had a 1.65 ERA and allowed only 69 hits and struck out 181 in 114 innings.
"We're pretty much set," Smith said of her lineup. "We have three back that can play in the outfield plus Madison Green, who transferred back into our system. We have the same infield and two good catchers, while our pitching will be a strength with Kinsey and our other transfer, Emily Mitchell."
Calhoun may have sneaked up on the Class AA state field last year, but Smith knows there will be no such advantage this time around.
"I think they enjoy the pressure," she said. "There's always a target on our back because we're Calhoun, so maybe it's a bit bigger target now, but they don't seem to mind."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
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 ...