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Area softball teams gear up for Early Bird tournament
Gainesville’s Caitlin Presnell is tagged out by Franklin County’s Stacy Jenkins on a steal attempt during Wednesday afternoon’s Early Bird Softball Tournament game at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times
Gainesville High softball coach Jeremy Kemp had to feel a little lucky when he looked at the lineup of games for the Early Bird Softball Tournament.

The Lady Red Elephants certainly were the fortunate ones, avoiding any overlap of varsity and junior varsity games in the preseason tourney, which is spread out over three different sites.

But Kemp doesn’t have to worry about trying to be at two places at once. Neither the Lady Red Elephants’ varsity or junior varsity squads are playing at the same time in this week’s four-day tournament with games split between North Hall High, the Hog Mountain Sports Complex and North Georgia College & State University.

“We’ve got nine games over four days,” said Kemp, the second-year Gainesville coach. “So it’s good that neither one of our teams play at the same time.”

This tournament is a good assessment to see how the Lady Red Elephants have improved since finishing with an 8-21 mark last season. The Early Bird field is certainly a challenging one, consisting of two-time Class AA defending state champions Buford (34-2-1 last year), Class AAAAA’s Greenbrier (33-7), Parkview (25-11), Flowery Branch (15-18), North Hall (13-11-1), Wesleyan (22-13-1) and Union County (21-11-1).

Kemp and the rest of the coaches use this tournament primarily to work out the kinks before the season starts in August. Every team lost starting players from last season, so these practice games will come in handy to see which players are ready to step
in and fill those holes.

“It’ll be great because it’ll give them the opportunity to see what they’ll need to work toward,” Flowery Branch coach Valerie Lancaster said.

“This is a good tournament to get our girls back together,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “We have a lot of players that are already proven. This gives us a head start for finding positions we have to replace.”

With this being a preseason jamboree, wins and loses are essentially irrelevant. Teams aren’t going to place any emphasis on looking across to the other dugout to see how they’ll stack up should they meet up in the regular season or postseason. The only scouting of interest at this point in the season is that of the players in their own dugout.

“The quicker we learn about what we have on our team, the better off we’ll be,” Kemp said.

The Lady Falcons also have a busy day today at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex. Flowery Branch plays four games over a 12-hour span, three of which are varsity with the nightcap being a junior varsity matchup. The Lady Falcons play host to Union Grove at 10 a.m., Jeff Davis at 2:30 p.m., Fannin County at 7 p.m., then the junior varsity Lady Falcons face Shaw at 8:30 p.m.
At North Hall High, the Lady Trojans play host to Union County at 1 p.m. today, Harlem at 5:30 p.m., and Jeff Davis at 7 p.m. The Lady Trojans’ junior varsity faces Franklin County at 11:30 a.m. Gainesville’s junior varsity faces Franklin County at 10 a.m. and Buford’s junior varsity faces Harlem at 4 p.m.
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